Headquartered in the Aquarium's Pier 4, the Animal Rescue team works in tandem with other institutions to rescue and release animals back into their natural environment. Sea turtles, seals, manatees and even a pygmy sperm whale have been rehabilitated and released through the program!
In the program’s 25 years of operation, staff have worked with more than 170 animals! Each animal’s length of stay and treatment is unique. Some are here for just a few weeks, while there are those like Cougar, a Kemp’s ridley turtle, who stayed for nearly two years.
While in our care, animals are monitored to assess their progress. Feedings and enrichment activities are crucial to an animal's eventual release. Food for each patient is carefully weighed and fed. For example, meals are fed to each turtle using a pair of long tongs. In 2015 alone, 39 rescued and released animals ate 785.8 pounds of food while in the Aquarium’s care!
To hone animals’ hunting skills and other natural behaviors, the team employs a number of enrichment activities. The rehab pool has a variety of “caves” and items to keep turtles and seals busy exploring their environment. Food is hidden for seals in PVC pipes to promote hunting behaviors.
Both seals and turtles can exercise their natural instincts with boat buoys, heavy-duty hula-hoops and even car wash strips that simulate kelp!
The goal for every rescued animal is to release them back into the wild. Whether the patient is in the program for a few weeks or years, the team is focused on preparing the animal for its return to the wild. After passing a series of tests and examinations, animals are cleared for release.
Each release is a momentous occasion. It’s the culmination of many individual efforts and cause for celebration. The animals rescued come to the Aquarium with various ailments, and the release of healthy animals brings joy not only to our staff, but also to those who line the beaches to send them on their way!
Here’s to many more years of rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing animals! To learn more about National Aquarium Animal Rescue, click here.