SeaWorld opens manatee center to public

Guests get behind-the-scenes look at rescued sea cows

ORLANDO, Fla. – Wednesday is Manatee Appreciation Day and SeaWorld Orlando is opening a new attraction to celebrate.

The Manatee Rehabilitation Center is a behind-the-scenes look into the area where SeaWorld Orlando Care teams have spent five decades rescuing sick, injured or lost animals.

"People say, you're just doing this now, (but), you know, the answer is we've been rescuing animals for 50 years. We've rescued over 27,000 animals," said Jon Peterson, supervisor of Animal Care at SeaWorld Orlando.

Visitors will now be allowed inside a section of the 5-acre center where rescue teams will carry the animals to a safe place for veterinarians and care teams to start rehabilitation. It's also the place manatees will be loaded back in a specialized "ambulance" to transport them back to the wild, and visitors will now be allowed to watch.

"This isn't always just bringing them in. There's times we use this to return them back to their natural environment," Peterson said.

Peterson said the amount of time each animal stays with SeaWorld depends on their reason for rescue. Michael Boos, the vice president of Zoological Operations, said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decides when an animal needs to be taken to a rehabilitation center.

Representatives said opening this part of the park is the first step in the company's new vision called "turning the park inside out."

SeaWorld has been under pressure from animal rights groups since the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" was released. 

The new attraction is opening weeks after SeaWorld announced an end to its orca breeding program and killer whale shows.

News 6 asked if the two are related, but Boos said SeaWorld has been making plans to open the manatee rehab center for several months.

"I wouldn't say its a part of the announcement in the last couple weeks, of the end to the breeding of killer whales, but it is part of our vision of bringing our back-house forward," Boos said.


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