Evans Mission Bay Magazine Issue 2 - Page 21

care specialist and rescue team member, point- ing out an orange tag on the animal’s flipper that was attached before its previous return to the wild. “But he has got himself into a differ- ent kind of trouble this time.” The situation is not easy: The sea lion doesn’t want to leave the rescue truck. It takes two animal care specialists—both of them wearing thick overalls and elbow- length welder’s gloves—to move the animal from the flatbed into the critical care unit. Using a large metal floor scale, the sea lion’s weight is determined. In order to rehydrate the creature, assistants insert an IV line into the back of his neck. But that’s no easy task either—not with a feisty sea lion trying to bite his helpers’ hands and the drip line. “Obviously, these animals don’t under- stand we’re trying to help them,” says Jody Westberg, SeaWorld’s stranded animal coordinator. “Veins are hard to find on a sea lion, especially when they are moving around like this. But up in the neck area, there’s a lot of loose skin and room for the liquid to be absorbed as the animal needs it.” undertake impressive journeys to recovery— with the help of dedicated SeaWorld staff. CREATURE CLINIC SeaWorld’s Animal Rescue Center features state-of-the-art equipment to ensure the best possible care for distressed wildlife. This includes a medical lab outfitted with the latest diagnostic tools, medications and intravenous fluids, as well as a surgical suite with X-ray, ultrasound and anesthesia machines. The center also boasts a food preparation room where meals are created according to special diets for animals on the mend. Outside, recovery pools and enclosures are customized for each critter’s special needs. There are several reasons why an animal may be brought to the center in the first place. Two of the most common afflictions are malnutrition and dehydration, often due to some underlying cause like illness, injury or separation from the animal’s mother. Other rescued animals are also entangled in nets, ropes or fishing line, may have acciden- tally eaten plastic or other foreign objects (the team removed 80 fishing hooks from the stomach of one sea lion) or have been impacted by environmental disasters like oil spills. Others have been injured by contact with boats and, in rare cases, some have been shot. Length of stay at the facility varies greatly, depending on species: Seals and sea lions are at the center for an average of six to eight weeks while turtle rehabilitation can take a year or longer. On this particular day, the animal being rushed into the “ER” is a juvenile California sea lion discovered at La Jolla Cove with a fishing hook stuck in his flipper. “This is actu- ally a re-strand, one we rescued earlier in the year,” says Kevin Robinson, a senior animal REMARKABLE RESCUES On any given day, the rescue team never knows what sort of animal it may be called upon to save or what the particular circum- stances might be. And, over the years, sev- eral rescues have captured the imagination of both the press and public. The park’s most celebrated animal reha- bilitation was J.J. the gray whale, first and foremost because a baleen whale of that size had never been restored to health in cap- tivity and, secondly, because it was such an outstanding success. No more than a week old, J.J. was dis- covered floundering at the harbor entrance of Marina del Rey near Los Angeles in January 1997. Dehydrated, hypoglycemic, comatose, malnourished and underweight (1,500 pounds), she was transported more than 100 miles down the coast to SeaWorld, where the rescue and rehab team started around-the-clock care for the infant whale. Nearly 15 months later—and 20,000 pounds heavier—J.J. was restored to health and returned to the Pacific Ocean. By observing J.J. during her recovery, SeaWorld researchers were able to learn 21