In Spring 2014 Sea World was inundated with green turtle strandings. After veterinary assessments it was discovered the strandings were likely due to an outbreak of coccidiosis, a parasitic disease of the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. Infected turtle’s present altered behaviour including a head tilt and swimming in circles. There is currently no known treatment for the parasite and many turtles die that have been infected.
The outbreak occurred in the Moreton Bay area and extended up to the sunshine coast and Bribie Island with over 150 estimated fatalities by December 2014.
In spring 1991 there was a similar increase of infected individuals in Moreton Bay, a popular feeding ground for green turtles. It appears this parasite correlates with low rainfall/drought conditions. Infected individuals are typically female sub-adult green turtles (Chelonia mydas).
Sea World takes in between 40 and 70 turtles every year with the most common reasons for rescue including:
• parasite infections ~90% of admissions
• inability to dive (floating)
• boat strikes, these may be hit due to floating
• entanglement in fishing gear, approximately 5% of rescues but increasing
Care of the turtles involves feeding, veterinary checks and treatment, data collection and pool cleaning. For many rescued turtles they will spend their first 48 hours in a freshwater bath to eliminate all of their external parasites. Many can then be moved into larger turtle rehabilitation pools located off display, while very weak turtles may require support (e.g. out of the water on foam mattresses or in very shallow water pools). Turtles that are in the final stage of their recovery can be seen at the Turtle and Bird Rehabilitation Area, to increase their fitness prior to release. Here they are visible to visitors to Sea World.
Turtle rehabilitation has occurred at Sea World for over 30 years, with a number of released turtles being spotted post release laying eggs on nesting beaches.
Ventura - Green Turtle
On 10 October 2014 the Sea World Research & Rescue Team released a male green turtle called Ventura at Fingal Head. Ventura spent almost three months with Australian Seabird Rescue before coming to Sea World in March.
While it is not clear exactly what Ventura suffered from originally, he was very thin and was treated symptomatically.
After almost nine months of rehabilitation a now healthy Ventura passed his swim test and was ready for release. Like all turtles he was released near the rescue location with two identification tags.
Juvenile Dolphin Caught on Drumline
In July 2014 a juvenile bottlenose dolphin was caught on a drumline hook off Main Beach. Due to the severity of her injuries she needed to be brought back to Sea World for stitches and rehabilitation. This meant separating her from her mother, who was a capable, healthy dolphin and it was not possible for the team to secure her to bring her in with the calf.
Initially the plan was to release Kyra within the first two weeks and a plan of action was devised in preparation to assist in reuniting her with her mother. Due to her age Kyra would still have been suckling from her mother and had not learnt life skills such as catching fish and escaping predators that she would need to survive on her own.
Due to rapid weight loss and a significant infection we were not able to release her in that time frame and re-uniting her with her mother was no longer possible.
We continued to care for Kyra and after four months and two surrogate mothers she is doing well. Her wounds have healed and despite the drumline hook severely damaging one of her eyes causing blindness she is feeding freely and seeks out interaction and attention from the trainers. Due to her young age on arrival the Queensland Government has recommended for her to become a resident here at Sea World.
Sunburnt Juvenile Dolphin
In 2013 the Sea World Research & Rescue team along with National Parks and Wildlife staff tried to release a badly sunburnt juvenile bottlenose dolphin found stranded at a Royal Australian Armed Forces base in NSW. However he was not able to swim upright and kept leaning to one side. A collective decision was made to bring him to Sea World, where he could receive constant care.
Fishing Line Entangled Dolphin
In June 2013, a bottlenose dolphin called Howie became entangled in fishing line. which cut a notch at the base of his fin, making re-entanglement a likely occurrence. It was suggested by Queensland fisheries for Howie to come to Sea World to recover and due to his injuries to remain here. Howie is now a very visible example of the effect of ghost netting and the importance of removing all fishing gear when you have finished.
Brisbane River Dolphin
In 2009, after 2 months of rehabilitation from fishing line entanglement Cliffy was released along with Nari a dolphin who came to us with a shark bite injury. However, 3 months later he returned to Sea World as he had made his home near a boat ramp in the Brisbane River. This was dangerous to Cliffy due to high potential boat strike and observed occurrence of general public feeding him food such as bread.
Palm Beach Whale Stranding
Tuesday 8 July
On the evening of Tuesday 8 July 2014, the Sea World Research & Rescue team received a call about a stranded juvenile Humpback Whale at Palm Beach. The team, alongside Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services (QPWS), Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) and ORRCA, immediately sprung into action, sending staff to the beach to assess the 8m and up to 20 tonne whale. On the scene staff conducted a veterinary assessment including collecting blood, skin and blow samples while other staff prepared the rescue gear and boats required for this type of rescue operation. As no rescue could be attempted that evening due to tidal and light conditions, the team stayed with the whale all night, monitoring its breathing and stress vocalisations and prepared to launch the following morning.
Wednesday 9 July
As the sun began to rise rescue boats Sea World One and Sea World Two were on stand-by for the moment there was enough light to operate safely, while the beach team were securing a specially designed harness around the whale’s pectoral fins. Sea World designed this harness in 1992 and was the first organisation in the world to successfully conduct this type of rescue on a baleen whale.
As the rescue efforts commenced, it was clear that the whale’s position high on the beach was going to make for a difficult rescue as it limited the amount of water reaching the whale, even at high tide, creating enormous resistance when the boat attempted to pull the whale free.
The rope on the specially designed harness is designed to snap if it exceeds a certain amount of pressure, otherwise injury could be caused to the whale’s pectoral fins where the harness is attached. During the morning, the team conducted several rescue attempts with the roping breaking several times. The rescue efforts were then postponed due to the outgoing tide and the risk to the whale.
The team cared for the whale throughout the day by protecting it from the sun and pouring water over it to reduce overheating and stop its skin drying out. During this time excavators, provided by local and state government, arrived and dug a trench to assist in the towing efforts planned for the next high tide that afternoon.
With a 1.6m high tide coming in, compared to a 1.2m tide that morning, the team were optimistic. As the tide came in, the sand beneath the whale became unstable, which resulted in a very dangerous situation for the rescue team and whale. The team supported the whale to help it battle with the current and stability, but on two occasions the whale rolled on its back, covering its blow hole and preventing it from breathing. During this time, the rescue team had to exit the water as it was extremely dangerous in the rough surf and with the size of the whale. Fortunately the whale righted itself on both occasions to the relief of all involved.
As soon as it was safe to re-enter the water, the Sea World Research & Rescue team alongside QPWS re-attached the harness, however, despite repeated attempts to pull the whale into deeper water, the light faded to a point where it was too dangerous to continue and a call was made to try again in the morning. The team stayed with the whale throughout another freezing night and monitored its breathing and stress levels.
Thursday 10 July
At first light on Thursday 10 July, the team launched a third rescue effort. Rescue efforts were slowed due to the rope breaking, as it’s designed to do, however each attempt moved the whale further offshore. On the fourth attempt, the whale turned, causing the harness to fall off, and the tired whale washed back into shore.
On the fifth attempt, Sea World One was able to pull the animal out past most of the breakers, the harness dropped away and the whale began to swim out to deeper waters much to the jubilation of rescuers and the large crowd watching over the morning’s attempts.
Sea World One stayed with the whale as it headed out to sea, and after a couple of hours, left it swimming strongly north east with powerful blows - a very good sign.
The whale has not been tagged but can be identified visually, and the Sea World Research & Rescue Foundation’s network of whale spotting volunteers who survey the coast during the whale migration season are on high alert.
While the whale would be very sore and tired from the 38 hours it spent stranded on the beach, there were no visible signs of injury and the results from the blood tests revealed no cause for concern.
The Sea World Research & Rescue team would like to thank everyone involved in the successful rescue of this whale, and the team are cautiously optimistic about the young whale’s future.
In February 2009 Nari the dolphin was rescued from Tangalooma after he was discovered with a severe shark bite wound. Nari was brought to Sea World’s Veterinary Quarantine Centre for treatment and after 7 weeks recovery including surgery, Nari was released back at Tangalooma. Nari is still doing really well and can often be seen hanging out at Tangalooma.
The Endangered Grey Nurse Shark
In 2008 the Sea World Rescue team removed a large, one metre gaff hook from the mouth of a critically endangered Grey Nurse Shark at Julian Rocks, near Byron Bay.
The shark was actually brought aboard Sea World One and placed in a 4000 litre tank using a crane, with the rescue team then turning the shark on her back. When the shark was in a relaxed state, we inserted a large PVC pipe into her mouth and conducted a delicate procedure to remove the gaff hook. Following the removal of the large hook, the shark was tagged with a special tracking device and released back into the same site.
Kingy the Dolphin
In January 2007 Sea World released 'Kingy' a rescued dolphin, back into its natural habitat at Bribie Island, north of Brisbane.
The Male Inshore Bottlenose Dolphin nicknamed 'Kingy' was caught in shark nets on September 14 2006 at Kings Beach on the Sunshine Coast. He was freed by Caloundra City Council Lifeguards and cared for on the beach by lifeguards and staff from Australia Zoo until Sea World Vet Dr. David Blyde could attend.
Upon examination the dolphin was found to be in poor health having considerable net damage and suffering from the effects of either exhaustion or near drowning. Sea World Vet David Blyde said that Kingy had sustained serious damage to his left pectoral fin and was initially unsure if the team would be able to save it.
"Kingy's pectoral fin was nearly severed in the incident, and we did not hold a great deal of hope for the fin", he said.
Following his rescue Kingy resided at Sea World for almost three months where extensive rehabilitation and care took place, with the fin continually improving. Eventually Kingy was placed in a larger pool and was deemed suitable for release.
"He proved to be a very resilient animal and healed remarkably well", Dr. Blyde said.
Kingy was released at 9.30am on January 4 2007, just off the foreshore in a calm water passage at Bribie Island.
According to Sea World Director of Marine Sciences, Trevor Long, Kingy was one of the lucky ones.
"Each year we see many more Dolphins drown in shark nets than survive. Kingy was lucky not only because he was caught near the top of the nets and could roll over and breathe when he needed to, but also because he was rescued by some very brave and concerned lifeguards", he said.
Trevor applauded the efforts of the lifeguards and the team at Sea World for saving the dolphin.
"Ordinary people taking action to assist animals in distress is always a heartening thing", he said.
"And it’s not just the people on the frontline that we have to thank, it's all the people behind the scenes, the people who spend hours on end observing the animal, feeding it and cleaning its pool".
Mr Long said that of course citizens should consider their own personal safety first before attempting a rescue, but the community needed to get more involved with the environmental well being of our native animals.
Mr. Long said that in 2005 alone 5 sea turtles, 6 great whales, 24 dolphins and 1 dugong were caught in shark nets off the Queensland coast, and of the 24 dolphins caught only 4 survived.*
Protected species such as whales, dugongs, Grey Nurse and Great White sharks also get trapped in these nets in significant numbers. With an estimated population as low as 300, the Grey Nurse is on the verge of extinction and can not sustain any more killing.
"The public needs to drive change and educate themselves on environmental issues affecting our marine life.
"Sea World is dedicated to raising awareness within the greater community about important environmental issues and the need for conservation of our marine world, and we will continue to rescue and rehabilitate animals caught in the nets, but the public needs to get involved too.
"We need to ask the question, what would happen if Sea World wasn't there to help? We simply can't afford to sit back and rely on some one else, it's up to all of us to participate in the protection and future well being of our marine species.
"We need to decide if the cost we pay from a marine life perspective is an acceptable one", he said.
For more than three decades Sea World has contributed a portion of its theme park profits to promote education, conservation and ultimately the preservation of our precious marine life and its environment.
"One dolphin is not a conservation issue, but it is an animal welfare issue, and we should do our very best to care for all animals in situations of distress", said Trevor Long.
*Figures taken from the Queensland Government, Environmental Protection Agency's Marine Wildlife Stranding and Mortality Database Annual Report 2005.
In November 2002, eight months after being released into Moreton Bay, Pig was found in Days Gutter, adjacent to the Kooringal township at the southern end of Moreton Island. He was in a seriously malnourished state, and also had multiple injuries consistent with tusk wounds inflicted by another male dugong.
He was taken back to Sea World for treatment, but grave fears were held for his survival as his eating patterns and weight fluctuated, showing no steady pattern of improvement. Although he eventually gained about 20kg more than his weight at recapture, he still remained more than 30kg lighter than when he was released in March 2002.
Over a three-year period, numerous tests were done to try to pinpoint the reason(s) that he failed to regain the good health he had shown prior to release, but there was no clear indication of why he now failed to thrive.
For 18 months prior to release he had flourished when housed outdoors, where water temperatures reached a minimum of 17°C during Winter. Now, in his emaciated (and therefore poorly-insulated) post-recapture state, it seemed that he could be compromised by water temperatures somewhere around the mid-20°C's or perhaps even higher.
For this reason, he has had to be maintained in a specially heated rehabilitation pool adjacent to the Veterinary Quarantine Centre (VQC) since his return to Sea World.
Many months into his recuperation, consensus grew amongst various stakeholders that it would be unjustifiable to contemplate any future attempt to re-release Pig.
Eventually, in August 2004, Sea World made a formal application to the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency (QEPA) to transfer Pig off the Rescue Permit under which he was hand-raised and released, and on to Sea World's Wildlife Exhibitor's License. Permission to do so was granted in October 2004.
Plans were made to house Pig where he could be seen by the public - in a dedicated area with a heated pool which allowed underwater viewing. Demolition & refurbishment of the interior of the building that had once been the World of the Sea Theatre began.
Photographs, video footage, object galleries, and several interactive stations were utilised, in addition to standard textual graphics with a strong emphasis on dugongs and dugong conservation in general- as well as lots of specific information about Pig and his story- to increase the educational impact of this interpretive material.
The new exhibit Dugong Discovery opened on Boxing Day 2004.
In addition to Pig's unique contribution to raising public awareness of dugongs and threats to their survival, the hand-raising techniques developed during his original rehabilitation have already proved useful, after the January 2005 stranding of yet another baby dugong in central Queensland.
This female calf is currently making steady progress at Sea World after being rescued from a beach at Emu Park (between Rockhampton and Yeppoon) by Rosslyn Bay Marine Parks rangers and an elder of the local Darumbal community. She has been named 'Wuru'- a Darumbal word meaning 'young child'.
As Wuru continued to thrive, in July 2005 we sought QEPA permission to move her into Dugong Discovery where she could be seen by the public in lieu of Pig.
Wuru is currently housed in the 3.9m deep Dugong Discovery tank, an environment she shares with various species of fish, small benthic sharks (grey carpet sharks, epaulette sharks) and stingrays.
She still gains most of her nourishment from bottle-feeds of milk, but will be weaned gradually over the next six months or so.
Pig was taken off display and back to his rehabilitation pool adjacent to the VQC, where it was more practicable to more closely monitor changes in his body weight, blood values, food intake and faecal output.
Subsequently, staff came back to revisit the idea that the bacterial flora in Pig's intestine, essential to allow him to digest a herbivorous diet, was somehow not up to scratch.
Within the first couple of months of his recapture, re-inoculation of his gut with faeces from wild dugongs was attempted on two occasions, but in retrospect it was felt that for various reasons this process might not have been successful.
In September and October 2005, more freshly-passed faeces was collected in the vicinity of feeding dugong herds in Moreton Bay, and efficiently delivered to Pig.
As he was going through yet another downturn in his appetite and body weight, a number of medications were also administered around the same time.
Since then, Pig has rallied and begun to eat very well, regaining a great deal of lost condition and, for the first time since his recapture, is steadily closing in on his release weight.
Rehabilitated Drumline Dolphin
Sea World has successfully returned the latest in a line of rescued animals, a female Inshore Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops aduncus), to the sea after a five month long rehabilitation at the park.
Sea World staff released the dolphin just off Surfers Paradise beach in February 2002, where it is hoped she will rejoin a local pod of Inshore Bottlenose Dolphins.
The dolphin measuring 220 cm in length and weighing 120 kg was originally caught on a shark drumline off the Northcliffe beach on Sunday 16 September 2001. The animal was found by the shark meshing contractor and local lifesavers early in the morning, who contacted both Queensland Boating and Fisheries and Sea World staff who freed the dolphin and brought her back to Sea World’s Veterinary Centre.
The large shark hook - the purpose of which, as part of the drumline apparatus is to attract sharks and keep them away from public beaches - had penetrated through the dolphins mouth and protruded just under the eye.
Since then there has been a persistent but isolated infection around the wound, which delayed a planned release in mid January, and the animal has required repeated treatments of antibiotics. A final veterinary inspection was undertaken late last week, resulting in a clean bill of health for the dolphin who was pronounced ready for release back to the wild.
Minke Whale Rescue
Sea World, in conjunction with the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, came to the aid of a six metre Minke Whale stranded on a sandbank 2nm off Toondah Harbour at Cleveland on June 17 1999.
Sea World staff arrived at Toondah Harbour with Sea World II and an inflatable whale pontoon specially designed by Sea World to relocate stranded animals out to sea. Sea World staff and Marine Parks rangers worked in freezing water temperatures to secure the animal, and inflate the pontoon. Once secured on the pontoon, the whale was towed behind the Marine Parks barge 'Spoonbill' to Toondah Harbour where it was rested for the night.
The following morning, the animal was towed by the 'Spoonbill', escorted by Sea World 1 and Marine Parks boat, the 'Teale', across Moreton Bay to Amity Point where Sea World's veterinarian collected blood samples and measurements prior to release. This data is used to give an indication of the general health of the animal and is held on a central database for comparisons with future stranded animals. It is also included in the annual report on stranded cetacea to the International Whaling Commission.
The animal was then towed through South Passage and released approximately 1.5nm north east of Amity Point. It was observed to be swimming strongly in a northerly direction, surfacing regularly.
Entrapped Whale at Kirra
On August 1 1998, a juvenile Humpback Whale became entrapped in a shark net at Kirra. With the increased number of Humpback Whales along our coast, incidents like this happen each year and Sea World and the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol have developed a rescue team and specialised equipment to deal with these incidents quickly and effectively.
Even though all shark nets are fitted with alarms that warn whales to stay clear, it is believed that these alarms may attract the younger, inquisitive and inexperienced whales. It is usually these newborn or juvenile whales on their southern migration to their summer feeding grounds that become entrapped in shark nets.
This particular entrapment was the worst ever encountered by the Sea World research and rescue team. The juvenile whale was completely enveloped in the net making it very difficult to free. The rescue team used divers to remove the net from the animal and the whole process took over an hour due to the risks associated with the animal's large size and frantic movements.
A BBC cameraman captured the entire underwater event on camera. This footage will be a valuable training tool for future incidents.
On New Year's Eve 1995 Sea World experts were flown to Port Vila where a pod of spinner dolphins had swum into a lagoon, but were unable to navigate their way out due to a maze of coral reefs separating them from open waters.
Without food in the lagoon, the dolphins began showing signs of dehydration and distress. While 32 dolphins were eventually rescued, four died before the operation was finally successful.
With carefully selected volunteers, the dolphins were picked up from the water and walked across a narrow spit of sand to the open ocean. All the dolphins were moved together so they could maintain eye contact with each other and, once placed safely on the other side, were released together to minimise any further stress on the animals.
In August 1994, Sea World joined the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in a three-month operation to help a 10-tonne Brydes whale trapped in the Manning River near Taree.
The whale swam as far as 20 km upstream, but was unable to negotiate its way out of the maze of sandbanks and the treacherous bar at the mouth of the river.
After three months in the river, with the whale losing condition from lack of food, Sea World developed a revolutionary floating pontoon to tow the whale across the bar.
When the whale stranded on a sandbank at the mouth of the river, the Sea World team immediately moved into action, positioning the whale on the pontoon then towing it across the bar and two kilometres out to sea where it was finally released.
When a 35 tonne Humpback Whale was stranded on the spit at the north of Fraser Island in August 1994, a Sea World helicopter carrying a rescue team flew to the area to find the whale high and dry on a sand bank.
Throughout the night and following day, the rescue team, assisted by Boating and Fisheries and Department of Environment and Heritage staff, worked to keep the whale moist and protected from the sun during the countdown to high tide late in the afternoon when the rescue would be attempted.
As high tide approached, Sea World's specially designed sling was put in place and a Boating and Fisheries Patrol boat was able to tow the whale into deeper water where it was able to swim free.
Dudley the Baby Dolphin
In January 1991, Sea World was called to help a lone, stranded baby Indo Pacific Humpback dolphin, named Dudley, at Alva Beach near Townsville.
Following an overnight vigil a seat was allocated aboard a Qantas domestic flight to take the young dolphin to Brisbane airport where a Sea World helicopter was waiting to take the dolphin to Sea World.
Despite being fostered by a female bottlenose dolphin, Ava, and making remarkable progress, Dudley finally succumbed to a massive bacterial infection two weeks after becoming stranded.
However, the knowledge gained from Sea World's experience with Dudley has received international attention in providing valuable information on a rarely-studied species.