“ One hundred and 10 percent, the goal of the program is to give animals that second chance—return them back to the wild. That’s the best day for us. ... That’s what we’ve been working toward. Top: SeaWorld staff clean a sea lion (left) and work with an injured dolphin (right). Bottom left: SeaWorld created flotation devices for a dolphin that couldn’t swim on its own. —JODY WESTBERG approached him. They were finally able to corral him when the animal went ashore on a Point Loma beach. After removal of the gaff from his hip and treatment for a mild infection, Oscar was released after only two weeks at SeaWorld. “We got an anonymous call on our rescue hotline from a fisherman who said he was on the boat when the animal got gaffed and it was an accident,” Westberg explains. “They were all very happy to see the animal was getting the help it needed. That was really a cool call. He’s what we call a resi- dent animal. The locals named him Oscar, so the community down there was really invested in getting this animal rescued.” In 2016, a memorable rescue involved an emaciated young sea lion that was dis- covered sleeping in a booth at The Marine SEAWORLD’S BEHIND-THE-SCENES TOUR The best way to get a close-up look at SeaWorld San Diego’s animal rescue and rehabilitation efforts is by signing up for a Behind-the-Scenes Tour. During the one-hour meander through the park’s backstage areas, guides provide interesting facts about SeaWorld and its wildlife. Private tours, which cost $500 for groups of 20 people or fewer, may include a visit to Turtle Beach to feed endangered sea turtles, the Humboldt penguin habitat or other areas, while public tours stop at the Aquarium Lab and Animal Rescue Center; the latter is sometimes included in private tours based on timing and group size, but not guaranteed. The cost of the public tour starts at $20 per person; of that price, $2 benefits the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. 22 INNOVATIVE APPROACHES Also in 2016, over on the other coast, SeaWorld Orlando rehabilitated a mother manatee and her calf that had been res- cued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The mother was struggling with severe buoyancy issues believed to be caused by a watercraft strike. Devising a unique solution to an unusual problem, the Orlando team created a super-sized “wet suit” to wrap around the mother manatee, stabilizing her buoyancy issue before veterinarians successfully released air that had become trapped in her chest cavity. SAN many things about gray whales such as their vocalization patterns and growth rates. Staff also developed tools and techniques to care for such a large animal. “One of the great- est innovations was the creation of marine mammal infant formula, which has allowed us to care for other rescued newborns over the years,” Westberg says. Another high-profile operation was the rescue of Oscar, a California sea lion who frequented the G Street Pier on San Diego Bay. “We got a call from someone that said there was an animal with a ‘bat’ stuck in its body,” Westberg recalls. “We figured it must be kelp wrapped around the animal’s body, but it was actually a fishing gaff.” Being a sly sort of sea lion, Oscar eluded capture for nearly a week by slipping back into the bay whenever the rescue team Room, a waterfront restaurant in La Jolla. The sea lion pup, named Marina, was nursed back to health and soon returned back to the ocean. In 2015, SeaWorld rescued a record number of sea lions, like Marina, due to a phenomenon most likely caused by warming ocean waters that force marine mammals to swim farther and deeper to find food, researchers say. There have also been an unusually high number of whale entanglements off the Southern California coast over the past few years, including a juvenile humpback whale that SeaWorld’s team rescued 3 miles from the La Jolla shore in February 2016. This rescue effort—which entailed removing fishing line from the whale’s mouth and fluke area—took around two hours by three rescue team members in a small rubber boat.