Marine Mammal Care

Few animals are as fascinating as marine mammals: killer whales (Orcinus orca), beluga whales, dolphins, walruses, otters, manatees and sea lions. Our mission at SeaWorld® is to inspire guests through education and up-close experiences to care for and protect the marine environment.  We take our responsibility to care for these remarkable animals very seriously, including both those in our care and their wild counterparts.  We have served as a global leader in marine mammal veterinary care, husbandry, training and welfare for five decades.

Below are some questions and facts about the welfare, care and training of these incredible animals and information about how they serve as ambassadors for their counterparts in the wild.

How do places like SeaWorld, and my visit there, benefit animals in the wild?

Is a visit to SeaWorld educational?

Does SeaWorld support conservation?

Does SeaWorld contribute to research?

Is SeaWorld involved in the drive hunts documented in “The Cove”?

Do SeaWorld animals experience stress?

What success has SeaWorld had with marine mammal breeding programs, and why are they important?

Do SeaWorld animals exhibit aggression?

How are SeaWorld animals trained?

How is SeaWorld committed to the safety of its zoological staff?

How does SeaWorld acquire its animals?

What are SeaWorld’s standards of animal care?

 

How do places like SeaWorld, and my visit, benefit animals in the wild?

Every visitor who passes through the gates of one of our parks helps SeaWorld rescue and protect animals in need all over the world.

SeaWorld animal experts have helped more than 23,000 animals in need—ill, injured, orphaned, and abandoned animals such as whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, manatees, sea turtles, and birds—for decades.  In collaboration with the government and other members of accredited stranding networks, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment™ operates one of the world's most respected programs to rescue ill and injured marine animals with the goal of rehabilitating and returning these animals to the ocean.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment supports animal rescue, conservation, and environmental stewardship programs around the world. The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens® Conservation Fund is a registered non-profit conservation foundation that commits 100 percent of donations to projects that benefit on-the-ground wildlife conservation.

Additionally, the parks’ commitment to research and conservation has led to advances in the care of animals in both zoological facilities and wild populations. SeaWorld is a global leader in animal husbandry, veterinary care, and training. Many of the procedures we’ve developed to care for our own animals have been applied to help rescue and rehabilitate orphaned, injured, and ill wild animals.

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Is a visit to SeaWorld educational?

Absolutely, but who better to answer this question than SeaWorld guests themselves? The overwhelming majority of visitors to SeaWorld parks say the experience was educational.  Many say it was far more than that.  For many guests, experiencing marine mammals firsthand inspires interest that grows and evolves long after a SeaWorld visit is over.

The educational benefit of zoos, marine life parks and aquariums has been validated through research.

In the most recent (2012) national poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums:

  • 97 percent of respondents agree that aquariums and zoos are important because they educate children about marine mammals that children may not be able to see in the wild.
  • 94 percent agree that children are more likely to be concerned about animals if they learn about them at these facilities and that a visit can inspire conservation action that can help marine mammals and their ocean environments.
  • 94 percent of people agree that zoos and aquariums offer valuable information about the importance of oceans, ocean environments and the animals that live there.
  • 89 percent agree that children learn more about marine mammals at an aquarium or zoo than in a school classroom.
  • 88 percent agree that you can learn about animals at marine parks in a way that can't be replicated by watching film or TV programs.

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Does SeaWorld support conservation?

Yes, and to an impressive extent.  We focus our support for conservation in four areas:  1) the rescue of ill, orphaned, and injured animals, 2) funding and other forms of support for research, 3) funding and direct action in conservation, and 4) the educational interpretation of animals. SeaWorld has spent millions of dollars conserving wild animals and wild places, as well as supporting critical conservation work on every continent.

It's important to note also that more than 23 million people each year learn about animals in our parks, as well as the importance of conservation and wildlife preservation.  Few companies can claim a greater commitment to conservation.  

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Does SeaWorld contribute to research?

Yes. Support for research was established as a priority for SeaWorld by our founders five decades ago.  SeaWorld's animal health professionals contribute meaningful science, insights gained in many cases through the care of animals in our parks.  We also partner with universities and research organizations, providing access to our animals and habitats for scientists conducting studies on a variety of subjects.  We also provide direct support, both material and financial, to field researchers.  This support is offered directly by SeaWorld, through grants from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, and by research foundations associated with and supported by SeaWorld, including the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute. Research is a key component of SeaWorld’s larger commitment to conservation and wildlife preservation. For more information about SeaWorld's research programs, click here.

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Is SeaWorld involved in the drive hunts documented in The Cove?

 

No.  SeaWorld, like every zoo and aquarium in America, is opposed to hunts like the ones shown so graphically in The Cove.  It is a violation of U.S. law to bring a marine mammal into this country that was collected in a drive hunt. None of our marine mammals came from a drive hunt. The Cove is purposefully misleading on these points, which diminishes what is otherwise a moving and important film and a reprehensible practice. 

 

In the 1980s, SeaWorld and other U.S. parks saved a handful of marine mammals from these fisheries, but we stopped many years ago because we didn’t want to be a party to it, even if we were only present to save animals.

 

To learn more about the truth behind our company’s position, we invite you to visit our blog. 

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Do SeaWorld animals experience stress?

 

All animals, no matter where they live, may experience stress from time to time.  Animals at SeaWorld do not face many of the factors that cause stress in wild animals.  They aren’t preyed on by other animals.  They never face hunger or pollution.  Unlike their wild counterparts, if they’re ill or injured, they receive veterinary care.  If an animal has a medical problem, our veterinarians treat that condition immediately in a manner consistent with our overall health and wellness programs.

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What success has SeaWorld had with marine mammal breeding programs, and why are they important?

 

More than 80 percent of the marine mammals in our parks were born in human care. Many represent second and third-generation zoological births. These breeding programs have been very successful. Until the mid-1980s, no zoological institution had successfully bred killer whales (Orcinus orca). That changed with the arrival of the first calf in 1985. More than two dozen calves have been born since. 

 

Additionally, SeaWorld has pioneered artificial insemination (AI) for a variety of species. AI provides greater flexibility in caring for SeaWorld’s marine mammals, provides important scientific insights and holds the promise of playing a role in the conservation of critically endangered marine species. 

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Do SeaWorld animals exhibit aggression?

 

SeaWorld animals exhibit the same kinds of behavior as animals in the wild.  While many marine mammal species live in groups with a social hierarchy, aggression is rare and rarely serious.  

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How are SeaWorld animals trained?

 

The training process at SeaWorld is a critical part of our animal welfare program. It is based on the principles of positive reinforcement. No animal is ever punished as part of this process. If an animal chooses not to participate in this process, it doesn’t. Training is an enriching and stimulating and contributes to the animals’ health. In addition to mental stimulation, training permits SeaWorld zoological professionals to provide better care. Animals are trained to submit to blood tests, provide urine samples, and even provide milk for analysis. Close interaction between our staff and animals is critical to assuring the animals’ health and well-being.

 

The essence of animal training is to vary reinforcement to keep animals engaged. We use a variety of reinforcements in the training process.  Each animal and each day is different. 

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How is SeaWorld committed to the safety of its zoological staff?

 

There is no higher priority for SeaWorld than the safety of team members and the welfare of our animals.  Our procedures for interacting with animals, particularly large mammals like whales and dolphins, reflect nearly five decades of industry leading experience.  Those procedures are continually analyzed and refined.  SeaWorld also invests significant resources in facilities and equipment, much of which was designed specifically for use in the care of marine mammals.

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How does SeaWorld acquire its marine mammals?

 

More than 80 percent of the marine mammals in SeaWorld parks were born in human care. SeaWorld has established breeding programs for most of the species you see in our parks, including killer whales (Orcinus orca), dolphins and sea lions.

 

In addition to those animals born in our parks, a much smaller number were rescued after beaching or suffering severe injuries that resulted in the U.S. government deeming them unreleasable. For those animals, we provide a home.

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What are SeaWorld’s standards of animal care?

 

Our world-class standards of care, state-of-the-art animal habitats, and a commitment to animal welfare that spans more than four decades have earned our parks recognition as global leaders in the zoological community.

 

Assuring the health and well-being of the animals in our zoological parks is a responsibility our skilled professionals take very seriously.  Every animal receives preventative medical care, exercise, play, a nutritious diet, and an environment that is continually changed to include a wide variety of enriching activities.

 

These animals live in some of the largest and most advanced marine mammal habitats in the world, such as the killer whale (Orcinus orca) habitat Shamu Stadium, which holds 7 million gallons of continually chilled and filtered saltwater.

 

Our programs and policies are regulated under numerous federal and state laws, including the Animal Welfare Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and other statues. The quality of care we provide these animals is further evidenced through the stringent accreditation process of two of the foremost professional zoological organizations to which we belong: The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums.

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