By Erin McKinney
There are many areas of marine mammal facilities that are grossly misunderstood by radical activists but one of the subjects most often botched by these keyboard warriors is that of rescue, rehabilitation and release.
Too often, social media announcements of such acts are met with outrageously misguided accusations suggesting that “rescues aren’t conservation,” that this is simply a ploy on SeaWorld’s part for better press coverage, or that even more ludicrously, SeaWorld is “imprisoning” wild animals under the “guise” of rescue and rehabilitation.
Let’s set the record straight and head back to Rescue and Rehabilitation 101.
1. SeaWorld is under no financial or legal obligation to rescue/rehabilitate animals. They aren’t bound by law, they aren’t paid to do it, there are no “Powers That Be” ordering the company to funnel resources into costly, complicated and dangerous animal rescues. The cost of a turtle rescue alone, ONE SINGULAR TURTLE, can be thousands of dollars. Despite this, SeaWorld is the largest system of animal rescue and release in the country and they VOLUNTEER to do it.
That’s right, SeaWorld’s rescue and rehabilitation program is actually the world’s fanciest animal volunteer program, staffed partially by animal care employees and partially by rescue volunteers. The cost of the rescue comes out of the company’s pocket. They volunteer for their placement on the NOAA fisheries stranding and rescue list.
And since we mentioned NOAA let’s clear some things up there too.
2. The government decides who rescues, rehabilitates, holds and releases animals. Not some evil corporate executive in a darkened office. There is a very clear set of legal protocol that determines what animals are suitable for release. It’s a 114 page document called the Standards of Release, available online for all to see, and it completely shatters the myth that SeaWorld can hold any animal they want after rescue.
The government controls rescues and releases because the animals that SeaWorld rescues all fall under federal jurisdiction. All marine mammals are covered under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and some, as well as sea turtles and some birds, are covered by the Endangered Species Act. The procedure for rescuing an animal goes something like this:
- Someone calls in a sick or injured animal to the National Marine Fisheries Service/NOAA
- NOAA examines their volunteer network in the area, and asks a facility to assist in the rescue (facilities CANNOT intervene without government approval.)
- After either rescuing the animal, NOAA will either request immediate relocation/release or order it sent to a particular facility
- Once the animal has been properly rehabilitated, NOAA will inspect and determine if said animal meets the protocol for release.
- If the animal is not suitable for release, NOAA will determine the permanent living situation for that animal
These protocols were put into effect after 1990 and they are now the letter of the law. Keeping an animal that NOAA determines releasable is against federal law, as is releasing one that is determined nonreleasable (we’re looking at you, Ric O’Barry.) Anyone familiar with the federal legislation can see that the rescue program is not a weak guise for animal kidnap and to suggest it is bordering on a conspiracy theory.
3. SeaWorld has the largest and one of the most advanced rescue programs in the United States.
And guess what? It’s all out of pocket. SeaWorld has rescued over 24,000 animals, more than any other animal rescue organization in the United States (and about 24,000 more than PETA ever rescued). Since their very first manatee rescue in 1976, SeaWorld has been on the front lines of rescue and rehabilitation, racking up mammal, bird and reptile rehab like nobody’s business. Their rescue teams are ready for the NOAA call 24/7, including weekends, holidays, (and other times when keyboard activists take a break from “helping” animals to curl up with their pumpkin spice lattes and binge-watch Mad Men.) And each one of those rescues is company funded. No catch, just conservation.
And it’s not cheap either. In fact, a rescue program of SeaWorld’s caliber complete with boats, trucks, rehabilitation facilities, vets and a specialized cetacean quarantine area in Orlando and pinniped holding in San Diego can only come from a company with SeaWorld level resources. They’ve been able to pioneer the field of rescue, from developing pilot whale back braces to manatee baby formula to prosthetic beaks for injured birds. Their commitment to saving as many lives as possible is no joke, and it’s your ticket to the park that funds this innovation.
Pretty cool way to use your vacation funds, if you ask, you know, any sane person.