ORLANDO, Fla. – The Clearwater Marine Aquarium has two new residents calling the facility home all thanks to some incredible work from teams at SeaWorld Orlando.
Overnight Monday, SeaWorld’s teams helped transfer two rescued and rehabilitated animals deemed non-releasable by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
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The two animals, both of which suffer from chronic health conditions, include a bottlenose dolphin named Apollo and an endangered green sea turtle named Boba Fett.
“While our goal is to return 100% of the animals we rescue and rehabilitate to their natural environments, sometimes they have chronic health conditions that make it impossible to survive on their own,” said Jon Peterson, VP of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando, and head of the SeaWorld Orlando Rescue Team. “All of us in the aquatic and zoological community work in partnership to help animals in need and I am delighted that our friends at CMA will be providing a permanent home for this wonderful pair.”
Apollo’s story began in May when someone called the Hubbs SeaWorld Research Institute saying they found a dolphin stranded on the Canaveral National Seashore. When Apollo arrived at SeaWorld, veterinarians began conducting several tests to determine what was wrong.
They later found that Apollo was 15% underweight and suffered from hearing loss.
“This condition meant that survival on his own was unlikely because lack of echolocation is not a condition they can overcome – it’s how they hunt and survive. The good news is that animals with this condition do great in human care and his future looks very bright,” said SeaWorld veterinarian and dolphin specialist Dr. Lydia Staggs.
According to a news release from SeaWorld, research has concluded that more than half of stranded bottlenose dolphins have severe hearing loss. The study also shows that hearing impairment could play a significant role in causing cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) to strand.
Over the past several months, SeaWorld’s animal care specialists said Apollo has progressed well through rehabilitation.
News 6 stopped by SeaWorld Monday to see Apollo before he made his way to Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
See interview below.
Apollo joins PJ and Hemingway as the third dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium rescued and rehabilitated by SeaWorld.
The aquarium’s best-known resident was Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who was rescued in December 2005 after having her tail caught in a crab trap. The famous prosthetic-tailed dolphin that starred in the “Dolphin Tale” movies, and inspired countless individuals, died during treatment on Nov. 11.
“We are overjoyed to welcome a new family member to CMA,” said Kelly Martin, VP of Zoological Care. “Coming off the heels of Winter’s rescue anniversary on December 11th and her death in November, this new dolphin is a burst of new life and energy that our team is so excited to embrace. December truly is our magical month at CMA.” Resident bottlenose dolphins Hope, Nicholas, and rough-toothed dolphin Rudolph were all rescued during the month of December.
Boba Fett, meanwhile, was brought to SeaWorld Orlando in May 2018 after he was found in Volusia County floating in water and unable to dive. Further evaluation found his outer shell was severely fractured, a traumatic injury that SeaWorld said likely came from a boat strike.
“He came to us with a deep wound across the top of his shell that ran down the center of his back and we suspected, given its severity, that it had impacted his spine,” said SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Stacy DiRocco.
Rescue teams said during his time in rehab, the wound began to heal, but Boba Fett continued to display positive buoyancy -- a condition in which the animal is unable to dive below the water line and unable to use his flippers.
SeaWorld said survival rates for turtles with these conditions are zero without long-term human care.
While at SeaWorld, the “Star Wars” named turtle tripled in size – now nearly 20 pounds. Green sea turtles can grow up to 4 feet long and reach 400 pounds and have an average life expectancy of 30-40 years.
“It is because of the wonderful team work, respect, and professionalism executed by each organization that these two now have a second chance at life. I want to thank the teams at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and NOAA for coordinating and executing Apollo’s rescue and for the team at SeaWorld Orlando for providing both animals with excellent care during their rehabilitation,” said Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, executive director at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.