SeaWorld Orlando, which has been rescuing and rehabbing sick or injured manatees since 1976, on Wednesday opened part of its manatee rehabilitation area for park guests to see.
The park for years has offered a $29 behind-the-scenes tour of its five-acre wildlife rehab center, where manatees are a major part of the patient population, but the new access to the viewing area — announced on Manatee Appreciation Day — is included in park admission.
“Our hope is to generate awareness and educate visitors on their simple mission, to return every manatee they successfully rehabilitate back to the wild,” SeaWorld says on its blog.
The company, which has been under intense pressure from animal activists for years because of its killer whale program, also hopes to give the public a new focus after it announced this month that it was ending its breeding program for orcas and would phase out its theatrical whale shows at its parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio.
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Park guests can see firsthand the top problems today’s manatee populations are facing and learn simple actions to help.
In addition to seeing manatees in rehab, SeaWorld said, guests can also see their digital medical charts, interactive exhibits, an underwater viewing camera and videos of the SeaWorld Animal Rescue Team in action.
“Park guests can see firsthand the top problems today’s manatee populations are facing and learn simple actions to help,” SeaWorld said in a statement.
Over the years, SeaWorld has rehabbed more than 500 manatees, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild. It works with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to determine when they’re ready to be released.
SeaWorld is the largest of three manatee rehab facilities in Florida, where an estimated 4,800 to 6,000 manatees live — roughly half of the world’s West Indian manatees. Manatees cluster in Florida’s warm rivers and springs in winter, then spread out along the East Coast and into the Gulf of Mexico in summer.
SeaWorld’s sister park, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, opened its animal hospital to park guests about four years ago, posting times when an animal would undergo a medical procedure that guests could watch.