SAN DIEGO – SeaWorld has surpassed the milestone of rescuing 40,000 injured, sick and orphaned animals, underscoring the relentless need to help animals in need.
Eric Otjen is the Vice President of Zoological Operations and has decades of rescue experience. He helped the SeaWorld Rescue team release five California sea lions into the wild. They were rescued earlier this year as young puppies, washed up on the beach, malnourished and dehydrated.
“It’s one of the best parts of the job, when we can drop them into their ocean habitat,” Otjen said.
Jen Zarate fed the sea lions daily and says they more than doubled in weight.
“It’s not liberation, and it’s not rescue itself,” Zarate said. “It’s actually knowing that your animal has peaked, like, you know, they’re going to be fine.”
The team released the sea lions five miles off the coast of San Diego in a location they had scouted beforehand, away from human interference and with plenty of fish in the area.
“We did everything we could and now the rest is up to them, and we know they got it,” Otjen said.
SeaWorld’s rescue team is on call every day, year-round, from the Mexican border to the Orange County line. They have helped save over 40,000 animals of various species such as waterfowl, pinnipeds, turtles, manatees, whales, dolphins, otters and a wide range of other mammals and fish. This milestone serves as a grim reminder that marine wildlife continues to face threats. Rehabilitation and return can help.
SeaWorld is a professionally accredited zoo and one of the largest marine animal rescue organizations in the world. A portion of proceeds from SeaWorld tickets and in-park purchases go to fund rescue and rehabilitation.
Kim Peterson is the rescue supervisor at SeaWorld San Diego and makes sure they provide all the right care to the animals without letting them get used to humans. She said they dress in costume when checking certain species to prevent them imprinting on humans.
She donned the costume to check out a baby White-faced Ibis.
“Fell off the nest and was quite bruised and bumped,” Peterson said. “So our job right now is to keep him warm and safe.”
She assists in one of the final checks these animals undergo to ensure they are ready to thrive on their own.
“It’s an honor to be part of such an important milestone,” said Peterson. “Each member of the team is an important part of our safety net.”
As they celebrate releases like the five California sea lions, it’s also a reminder to the team of the work ahead of them: to care for all marine wildlife, no matter what threats they face.
“It’s not a bittersweet moment at all, it’s more of a really good party to see them swimming,” Zarate said.
“It’s something we don’t take lightly,” Otjen said. “It’s a big responsibility.”
SeaWorld relies on everyone to be its eyes and ears for animals in trouble. If you have seen an animal in distress or in need of assistance, please contact their rescue team at 1-800-541-SEAL (7325) or email [email protected]
Useful information to give to the rescue team:
- Date the animal was last seen
- Time the animal was last seen
- Location (beach name, address, landmark, etc.)
- Size of the animal compared to a breed of dog
- Is the animal lean? Can you see his ribs, hips, or spine?
- Is the animal entangled in fishing gear?