Theater of the Sea is home to many animals that have been rescued, rehabilitated, and deemed non-releasable for a variety of reasons. This includes dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, crocodilians and raptors. These animals often require specialized long-term care and treatment that is funded through patronage alone. Each rescued animal has a special story and serves an important role in educating the public about the many natural and human-imposed threats to their wild counterparts.
Read about some of our animal’s rescue stories:
Toby, a young male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), was found stranded on a beach, emaciated and shark bitten on 21 November 2008. He was rescued by a volunteer team from the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TMMSN) and underwent initial treatment at Texas State Aquarium for six weeks until his condition stabilized. He was then transferred to TMMSN Galveston Island where he remained for 8 months as dedicated volunteers provided around the clock rehabilitative care. When the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined that Toby was non-releasable due to his medical and behavioral history, Theater of the Sea was selected to be his permanent home. TMMSN writes on their website, “We have heard some amazing things from many people about the facility’s enrichment program and animal care staff and we are very happy that he will have such good care.” Toby arrived at Theater of the Sea on 24 August 2009, after a two-hour chartered flight from Texas to the Florida Keys. Oddly enough, one of our dolphin calves was born at the exact moment that Toby’s plane landed and the two are now best friends!
Bella is a young, female California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) who stranded on a California beach as a pup and was rescued and rehabilitated by the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California. The National Marine Fisheries Service later determined that Bella was non-releasable due to a neurological condition affecting her cerebellum that causes her to constantly weave her head. In October 2009, Bella was flown on a Fed Ex plane from LAX to Miami, Florida and was then driven to Theater of the Sea. She is thriving here and she lives with a group of other sea lions, including a female her same age.
Malibu & Monica
Malibu and Monica stranded during the Unusual Mortality Event that has resulted in emaciated, dehydrated, and underweight California sea lions stranding along the California coastline since January 2013. Both animals were rescued and rehabilitated by the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, California.
Malibu stranded on Malibu Beach. She was deemed non-releasable due to her affinity toward people and intense desire to seek them out.
Monica stranded on Santa Monica Beach. She was rehabilitated and released. Unfortunately, she stranded again four weeks later having lost all the weight she had gained at the rehabilitation center. Monica was deemed non-releasable, as she had proven that she was not suitable for the wild.
Malibu and Monica arrived at Theater of the Sea on Jan 5th, 2016 and have integrated well with our resident sea lions.
Theater of the Sea is home to a colony of abandoned and rescued cats, who are all cared for individually. The park pays to have them fed, spayed and neutered, receive their annual shots, and any needed veterinary care. The cats live in a large habitat created just for them. The habitat is at capacity; Theater of the Sea cannot take in any more cats.
Mariner is a Mainecoon-type cat who has lived at the park since August 2003. He was found as a weak, emaciated kitten that had been tossed away in a dumpster at Mariners Hospital in Tavernier. The nurses there knew that we take care of abandoned cats and, coincidentally, an employee happened to be at the emergency room when he was found. During his veterinary exam, Mariner was estimated to be only four months old and weighed less than a pound. He spent many weeks in the owner’s office under the desk lamp to keep warm and was gently cared for until he was strong. He now weighs 12 pounds and can be seen living in the gift shop.
Aphrodite is a female Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) who was found stranded on Conch Reef in Key Largo, September 10, 1991, when she was only about the size of a dinner plate. She was entangled in fishing line. By the time she was found, gangrene had already begun to set in so her flippers had to be amputated in order to save her life. Theater of the Sea provided her with a permanent home and has watched her grown to nearly 300 pounds over the past 20 years. She plays an important role in educating guests about the dangers of marine debris.
Barney is a sub-adult Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) who was rescued on April 5, 1998 after being found entangled in buoy rope 15 miles offshore of Islamorada. The rope was so badly wrapped around his right front and right rear flippers that they had to be amputated. With only two functional flippers, Barney was not a candidate for release, but found a forever home at Theater of the Sea when he arrived at the park on July 15, 1998. He manages to swim and maneuver relatively well, and has a big personality despite his relatively small size.
Christmas is a juvenile Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) who was found stranded near Sugarloaf Key on December 25, 2006. She was taken to the Hidden Harbor Turtle Hospital (HHTH) where she was diagnosed with a buoyancy disorder that caused her to float awkwardly at the surface of the water. The staff at the HHTH attached lead weights to her shell to help balance her out. However, due to her small size, Christmas was deemed non-releasable since her weights would require frequent adjustments as she continued to grow. Theater of the Sea agreed to provide a permanent home for Christmas, and on August 9, 2007 she arrived at the park. Since then she has adapted well and eagerly participates in training and enrichment sessions alongside her pool mates.
Jahna is adult female Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) who was rescued from the beaches of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands on September 8, 2003. After going ashore to lay her nest of eggs, Jahna was viciously attacked by a pack of feral dogs. Since sea turtles can’t retract their head and flippers into their shell, the dogs did extensive damage to her flippers, neck and eyes. She underwent surgery for her injuries, but sadly her eyes could not be repaired and had to be removed, leaving her completely blind. Jahna underwent months of rehabilitation at the HHTH before Theater of the Sea took her in on January 14, 2004. Despite her visual handicap, Jahna is thriving by relying on her senses of hearing and touch. She responds to the source of underwater sound cues which alert her that food is available, and guides herself around the pool’s edge through touch and mentally mapping landmarks in her habitat. Jahna is a calm, gentle sea turtle with an inspiring will to survive, and is a shining example of how animals can overcome disabilities just like people.
My name is Henry. I am a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas). Theater of the Sea has been my home since 1999. I am a very friendly turtle and mosey over to trainers as soon as I see them. I love lots of attention, basking in the sun, and will eat just about anything. I especially love to gobble down all of my veggies. My trainers call me the Hungry-Hungry hippo because I’m always munching on something!
Theater of the Sea houses 3 rescued crocodilians. We utilize training and enrichment with our crocodilians, which:
- shows our guests the true nature of these amazing creatures.
- gives a deeper understanding into their personality.
- helps dispel the negative view the public has about reptiles.
- reduces aggression.
- makes habitat upkeep easier.
- creates positive relationships between the animals and care givers.
- facilitates better husbandry practices.
- provides physical and mental stimulation.
Piper is a young male American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) who was rescued from an unsuitable home in Colorado by Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald of Animal Planet. He was relocated to Theater of the Sea in June 2008 when he was just 4 pounds.
Alley is an adult female American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Theater of the Sea offered to give her a home in 1995 when the owners of a tee shirt shop who had raised her as a pet could no longer care for her as she reached adulthood.
Igor is a juvenile male American and Cuban hybrid crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). He was struck by a boat propeller which left his tail severely damaged. Although completely healed, he cannot be released because he is a hybrid. He was cared for by the Miami Metrozoo until he was moved to Theater of the Sea in July 2008.
Gunther is a large male Green Iguana (Iguana iguana). He was raised as someone’s pet until he outgrew that home, at which point his owner donated him to a zoo where he was soon displaced by other male iguanas. Theater of the Sea was contacted about providing him a permanent place to live and agreed to take him in. He is as friendly as a pet dog, allows staff members to pick him up, and enjoys being petted and sprayed with a water bottle.
Iguanas are very popular in the pet trade. Unfortunately, this is their downfall. They are often not cared for properly and will either die within a year, long before their normal lifespan of 20 years, be taken to reptile rescue groups, or be released into the wild. This is how they found their way into the Florida Keys. They are an invasive species in Florida which means their numbers have increased rapidly and they are detrimental to the growth of indigenous plants and displace native animals.
Our Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), Rambo, was rescued and rehabilitated by the Miami Museum of Science. Since he is imprinted and has lost his natural fear of humans, he cannot be released, He was given a permanent home at Theater of the Sea in 1989.