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Why are some rescued marine animals deemed non-releasable?

March 12, 2018
Find out why some marine animals are deemed non-releasable to the wild and the process for placing them in a carefully selected permanent home like SeaWorld.

At SeaWorld, we often receive questions about marine life rescue and return efforts. As a leader in ocean conservation and animal welfare, one of our key missions is to rescue, rehabilitate and return animals to their natural habitat. This is a commitment shared by employees who dedicate their lives to the ocean and its animals.

There are many reasons that a marine animal may need to be rescued, including stranding due to unusual weather or oceanographic events, disease, fishery entanglements, pollution exposure, trauma or starvation. Fortunately there are over 120 dedicated organizations authorized by NOAA Fisheries to respond to marine mammal strandings and 32 facilities that can rehabilitate them. 

But what happens when these animals are not fit to be returned to their natural habitat? Who makes that decision and what are the determining factors?

In consultation with the experts working on an animal’s rehabilitation, the final decision regarding a rescued marine mammal or sea turtle’s future is ultimately made by the NOAA Fisheries.

As a government agency operating under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA recognizes that the welfare of marine mammals sometimes means they cannot be returned to the wild. Once an animal is rehabilitated, NOAA follows an independent process to determine whether the animal can be released back into the wild, or if it should be transferred to a facility where it will be cared for by zoological specialists. When NOAA selects a new facility for the care of a rescued animal, they consider current animals at that facility, available veterinary care, and background in caring for the species, all to ensure the animal receives the best possible care.

SeaWorld’s legacy of animal rescue spans more than 50 years. As one of the world’s leading animal rescue organizations, the SeaWorld Rescue team has come to the aid of more than 31,000 ill, injured and orphaned animals in need. And in keeping with our overall goals for animal conservation, our goal and intent is to release these rescued animals back into their natural habitat once they have been rehabilitated. In cases where an animal is deemed non-releasable by NOAA or another federal agency, we are honored to give them a forever home at SeaWorld, where they will receive world-class care from our dedicated team of animal specialists and veterinarians.