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SeaWorld marks its 40,000th animal rescue

Nic McVicker
A pelican is shown at the SeaWorld rehabilitation facility on May 3, 2022.

It’s a part of SeaWorld the public rarely sees. KPBS cameras went behind the scenes Tuesday to see how SeaWorld treats and rehabilitates animals that it has rescued.

“We have a few California Sea Lions that are ready to be returned," Jeni Smith said above a cacophony of excited California Sea Lions who were about to be fed.

Smith is a supervisor in SeaWorld’s animal rescue department. She’s been doing this here for 22 years.


“We’re like the ambulance. We’re the ones that answer the phone call, we’re the ones that respond and we’re also the ones that intake and take care of the animals," Smith said.

It’s a multi-step process. Injuries, like shark bites suffered by one of the California Sea Lions. are treated. In another pool a few steps away, another pinniped was being kept away from the others. She was brought in dehydrated and malnourished, and not able to compete for food with the healthier Sea Lions.

Nic McVicker
An emaciated California Sea Lion is shown at the SeaWorld rehabilitation facility on May 3, 2022.

“We’ve had to really take her rehabilitation very slowly. She kind of told us, I’m not ready for fish, so we had to go back to formula, it’s like a fish milk shake," Smith said.

Rescuing pinnipeds and other marine mammals probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you. After all, SeaWorld has been doing it since the park opened in 1965. But what you might not know is that for all that time, SeaWorld has also been rescuing sea and shore birds.


“My area of expertise is birds, so I do spend most of my time here," said Kim Peterson.

Peterson has worked rescuing and rehabilitating animals at SeaWorld since 1999. A big part of the bird rescue mission is rehabilitating birds who’ve been coated with oil. But they’ll take any feathered friend that needs help.

For her and Jeni Smith, the rewards of doing this job are never-ending.

“To have a bird we pick up on the beach, its cold, it may be lethargic, not responsive and to bring that back to health, have it fly... everyday it’s an incredible feeling," said Peterson.

SeaWorld counts on all of us to be their eyes and ears for animals in trouble — from the border to the Orange County line. If you spot one, don’t touch it.

Instead, call their rescue hotline 800-541-SEAL (7325) and help the SeaWorld team save another animal. The line is available 24/7, 365 days a year.