Evans Mission Bay Magazine Issue 2 - Page 20

TO THE RESCUE For more than five decades, SeaWorld has rescued and rehabilitated sick, injured and stranded marine animals while also educating the public about conservation. BY JOE YOGERST O ne patient is on the operating table under the care of a skilled surgeon, another is being moved from the back of a rescue vehi- cle into the critical care unit where aides quickly test his vitals and insert an IV. It could easily be the emergency room of a big- city hospital. But in this case, the first patient is a surf scoter duck, the second a California sea lion, and the “ER” is the Animal Rescue Center at SeaWorld San Diego. SeaWorld has been involved with animal rescue on some level for more than 50 years, since the park opened in 1964. Eventually, the official SeaWorld Rescue Team was established, working with state, local and federal agencies to rehabilitate creatures that are orphaned, injured, ill or stranded, with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild once they’re deemed healthy enough to be released. For the few animals that wouldn’t survive in the wild due to cer- tain conditions, SeaWorld or other zoologi- cal facilities are able to provide lifelong care. SeaWorld is a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network under the oversight of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Most of the animals they rescue are from beaches along the San Diego County coast between the Mexico and Orange County borders, while others are plucked from docks, bays and lagoons. Sometimes, SeaWorld assists outside of its San Diego County jurisdiction area at the request of the NMFS. The distressed 20 creatures are transported to the rescue cen- ter, where SeaWorld’s veterinarians and ani- mal care specialists are able to treat a wide variety of afflictions. Animals are released back into the wild at appropriate points, mostly along the coast. In the case of fully recuperated seals, sea lions and dolphins, they are often transported on a 27-foot Boston Whaler boat aptly named Second Chance to anywhere from 2 to 15 miles offshore for return in areas with similar species and sufficient food sources. But, before they return home, these animals Sea lion pups are returned to the wild. Jody Westberg, SeaWorld San Diego’s stranded animal coordinator, attempts a rescue.