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The real SeaWorld: Rescue takes center stage, with thousands of animals saved

Behind the scenes in the rescue and rehabilitation area at SeaWorld Orlando.
Behind the scenes in the rescue and rehabilitation area at SeaWorld Orlando.
Barb Nefer

SeaWorld is taking lots of lumps from "Blackfish," a one-sided movie that portrays the director's version of what happened in the tragic 2010 death of orca trainer Dawn Brancheau. It's backed up with selected "facts" and leaves out a lot of information that doesn't fit in with its message. The movie also conveniently neglects SeaWorld's extensive rescue and conservation work, with over 20,000 animals rescued over the years.

If you want to see the facts for yourself, book a backstage tour at SeaWorld Orlando and see its rescue equipment and rehabilitation area firsthand. Rescuers are on call literally 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to save everything from large animals like dolphins and manatees to smaller creatures like sea turtles and birds.

Click the slideshow accompanying this article to take a peek inside the rescue and rehabilitation area. The park partners with other rescue organizations to respond to calls day and night and help animals in distress. If appropriate, they're brought in for treatment and either get returned to the wild once they recover or stay in human care for the rest of their lives if they'll never be able to care for themselves.

Even if you don't do the tour, you can see rescued animals at the Turtle Trek attraction, which features both sea turtles and manatees. During Wild Days, which runs weekends through January 26, you can also see animals from a heart-warming rescue success story: four orphaned pilot whales who now make SeaWorld Orlando their home. You can meet them by jumping to this article, and if you come to the park for Wild Days, you'll meet them in person before the Blue Horizons show. To see what Blue Horizons is all about, jump to this article.

If you're concerned about the park's treatment of its orcas, you have a great opportunity to see for yourself up-close...very literally. Shamu Stadium is currently under renovation, and in the meantime you can visit "Shamu Up Close," which lets you view the killer whales in the area normally reserved for Dine With Shamu. You'll see training sessions or just observe the orcas playing around during their free time. For some scenes from this amazing experience, jump to this article.

The park has many different tours, in addition to the rescue tour, that focus on different animals like penguins and sea lions or different environments like Wild Arctic. If you really want to go behind the scenes and see everything, sign up for the Marine Mammal Keeper experience. You'll see SeaWorld Orlando has nothing to hide, and you'll leave with a new found appreciation of what it takes to work with and care for the animals.

Need advice or guidance from a Central Florida theme parks expert? Check out my ebooks for Kindle and Nook.

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