ORLANDO (WFLA) – SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment have hit a major milestone in their rescue, rehabilitation and return program, having saved the lives of over 40,000 animals.

From manatees to sea lions to threatened and endangered turtles, the parks in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego work every day when calls for animals in distress come through.

Jon “JP” Peterson leads SeaWorld Orlando’s rescue facility as the vice president of Zoological Operations. He said all three parks are linked when the need is there for an animal.

“The reason we’re so good at this, is all animals here at SeaWorld teach us every day. Our medical teams learn from that. Our partnerships and the ability to share information is massive,” Peterson said

The 40,000 rescues include over 550 cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises), over 8,500 pinnipeds seals, sea lions and walruses, 2,500 plus sea turtles, over 800 manatees and more.

Though SeaWorld Orlando may not see all types of these animals in Florida, they are helping out their sister parks.

“I mean, those numbers, to give you an idea, as we’re speaking right now, I got a text just a little bit ago that we returned another manatee to our natural waterways here, back out. California’s in the middle of working with some sea birds that just came in due to an issue. Our Texas park has sea turtles,” said Peterson. “And when the call comes, we bring those parks together with the Southeast Stranding [Network] or other partners that we work with.”

In Florida, SeaWorld Orlando was key to providing help statewide during the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event of West Indian manatees on the east coast. The park cared for the majority of the animals in distress due to the lack of seagrass, specifically in Brevard County in the Indian River lagoon.

SeaWorld Orlando created more “bed space” for manatees during this year’s response.

“You know, when the call comes, we’ll do what we need for the animals. We’ll never say ‘no.’ And if that means building more water, then we built more water,” said Peterson.

It’s something the family of parks has seen before.

“You know, the same thing happened in California in 2011-2012. They had a UME of sea lions and we ended up building more space there, flying teams in to ensure that we can meet the need of the animal,” Peterson continued.

SeaWorld is also committed to education in addition to its rescue, rehabilitation and return program. It’s something that can be seen in its Orlando park, where recovering manatees can be seen when they are well enough.

“You can go to one of our summer camps. You can do sleepovers. We have outreach where we talk about conservation to school groups. We have partnerships with schools that are right here in our backyard,” said Peterson.

Peterson said why SeaWorld is so good at what they do, is because the animals in their care are teaching everyone, everyday.

Further information about SeaWorld’s continuing efforts to protect wildlife can be found online.

If you see an injured, dead or distressed animal, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC.