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SeaWorld Recognizes Manatee Appreciation Day

SeaWorld Recognizes Manatee Appreciation Day

In honor of Manatee Appreciation Day, SeaWorld today shared the story of ‘Reckless’, a catastrophically injured manatee rescued in May 2022 with her newborn calf ‘Churro’ and their continued journey of rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando. Over the last ten months of rehabilitation, SeaWorld has taken extraordinary measures to save her life with veterinarians performing a series of nine groundbreaking procedures to repair injuries from a devastating boat strike. Outside experts have also been bought in to help with her innovative treatment regimen. All the while her newborn calf has remained with her under the watchful around-the-clock care of SeaWorld animal care experts. The prognosis is good for Reckless’ full recovery and eventual release back to Florida waters, along with her calf.

Dr. DiRocco, senior veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando said, “When we first saw her, she was in one of the worst conditions our team had ever seen. She had massive open wounds, an exposed shoulder blade, protruding bones and other serious ailments. All of us felt like her chances of survival, even with help, were very low.” 

Despite her dire condition, the manatee mom retained normal buoyancy – meaning she was able to stay afloat on her own – and she demonstrated a strong will to live, likely to support her healthy newborn. Dr. DiRocco added, “It became clear very quickly she was a fighter. That’s when all of us knew we had to do everything in our power to save her life and give her newborn a chance to grow to adulthood.” 

Dr. DiRocco and other SeaWorld veterinarians performed a total of nine lifesaving procedures and other rehabilitative treatments on Reckless. Some of these procedures are unprecedented for manatee rehabilitation, including:

A complete pectoral flipper amputation, including the shoulder, accomplished over multiple surgical events
Innovative procedures and techniques to facilitate healing, such as cold laser therapy
A combination of steroid injections, physical therapy and massage therapy to assist with return to normal function
The veterinary team performed several other innovative rehabilitation techniques with Reckless, including wound debridement, abscess removal, gastroscopy, radiographs and steroid injections. Reckless also suffered from kidney failure, so an IV line was placed to give fluid support and flush her kidneys. Reckless is expected to undergo one more procedure in the coming weeks, but SeaWorld veterinarians expect her to make a full recovery.


“This is an extraordinary story of survival and speaks to the power of collective action in addressing the needs of animals in distress,” said Andy Garrett at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “Without the care provided by the SeaWorld team, this animal would not be alive today. With every manatee that we save and return, we are helping to strengthen the resiliency of the population to current and future threats.”

SeaWorld Orlando Rescue Center is one of only five critical care centers in the U.S.

SeaWorld’s five-acre Rescue Center in Orlando is one of the largest spaces available and serves as one of only five critical care facilities in the U.S. for the treatment and care of injured, sick and orphaned animals, including manatees. SeaWorld has helped more than 1,300 manatees in need to date. SeaWorld Orlando’s Rescue Center can care for up to 60 manatees at a time, giving it the largest capacity in the state of Florida and in the U.S. Its facilities have a wide range of critical care amenities including lifting floors, top-of-the-line therapeutic and diagnostic equipment, and expert veterinary staff to rehabilitate manatees in need.

SeaWorld’s innovative and life-saving animal care and treatment methods for manatees include the development of a unique formula for baby manatees that can be customized to meet the specific requirements of each nursing calf, as well as the creation of a hand-held bottle that mimics a mother manatee’s feeding style. SeaWorld has also pioneered several manatee treatment techniques such as ultrasound, X-rays, surgery and thermography. Notably, SeaWorld’s veterinarians were the first to use a cast to treat an injured manatee.