Up close with Manatees on the show "SeaRescue" - 13abc.com Toledo (OH) News, Weather and Sports

Up close with Manatees on the show "SeaRescue"

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On the television program Sea Rescue, you see the dramatic effort made to save wildlife on location.

But rescuing the animals is only the first step. Rehabilitating them comes next. That can take years. 

That process happens somewhere most people rarely see, behind the scenes at SeaWorld Orlando. 

"It's what I do. I care for animals all day long," says J.P., an Animal Care Supervisor.

He started with the company 20 years ago at the now closed SeaWorld in Ohio. Now, J.P. is a full-time animal rescuer. 

"Christmas, New Year's, holidays, were here," explains J.P. "If the animal needs it, we're there."

That backstage effort has been going on for years. Only recently has SeaWorld started to showcase its outreach on SeaRescue.

All of the animals you see on the program were actually rescued, including the handful of manatee calves "backstage" at SeaWorld.

 "These guys are going to be with us for a while," says J.P. "One baby manatee needs to get up to a certain size, or a certain amount of weight, which averages out to about 6 years before they can be returned."

To date, SeaWorld has helped rescue, rehabilitate then return more than 400 manatees to the wild.

In fact, SeaWorld Orlando is one of only three critical care facilities for manatees in the country.

The endangered species are sometimes found in distress. When the call comes in, J.P. and his team travel to wherever they are. 

"Sometimes we need helicopters. Sometimes we need cranes. Sometimes we're at a manhole pipe trying to get a manatee out of there because they got themselves in trouble."

 As the manatee grow larger, they're moved into larger pools and moved away from being hand-fed. That way, they'll be able to fend for themselves on their own.

"Manatees are protected," says J.P. "They're on the endangered list. We want to tell these stories, we want to show these stories, but what we need to make sure everybody understands, these are still protected animals. They're back here for rehabilitation and when they get to a point like this when they're ready to be turned back out, we don't want them coming over to us any more. We don't want them interacting with humans."

Before they're returned to the wild, the manatee have one final stop, and that is within the park at SeaWorld Orlando. You can see that this pool is designed to look like a natural environment, one they might encounter outside of SeaWorld.

 The journey of each manatee back to the wild might be years in the making, but you can now see those journeys on SeaRescue every Saturday morning at 11:30 on 13abc.