Disney Cruise Line has been instrumental in helping rescue a masked booby that just wanted to enjoy an oceangoing vacation. The bird in question, a masked booby (yes, that’s its real name), was found aboard a Disney ship recently, and was successfully rescued and released by Wild Florida Rescue, a non-profit wildlife rescue organization in Florida.

A Disney cruise ship on a westbound transatlantic crossing from Europe to Florida earlier this fall found itself with an unusual guest aboard – a masked booby (Sula dactylatra), a type of widespread seabird found throughout much of the Pacific Ocean as well as the eastern Atlantic Ocean and parts of the Indian Ocean.

The bird had landed on the ship but refused to leave, and stayed aboard until the ship returned to Florida. At that time, Wild Florida Rescue – based in Brevard County, 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Port Canaveral – took possession of the bird and nursed it to good health.

After about a month of rehabilitation, the bird was healthy and vigorous, ready to be released. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) provided transport approximately 20 miles (32 km) out to sea and the bird was successfully on its way again!

The exact cruise ship involved has not been identified, other than the fact that it was on a transatlantic sailing at the time the bird appeared. While masked boobies can be found further out into the Atlantic Ocean than their range might suggest, it is also likely this individual bird may have gotten disoriented and been blown further out to sea than expected.

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Once exhausted and disoriented, the bird could have mistaken the ship for a safe landing space, and indeed, it did get magical treatment onboard to keep it safe while returning to Florida.

Ironically, this bird species does have a unique connection to Disney Cruise Line. In the 2023 live action remake of The Little Mermaid, the character of Scuttle – originally an unidentified type of gull in the 1989 animated classic – is a northern gannet (Morus bassanus), a close relative of the masked booby.

Disney Cruise Line Ship (Photo Credit: Just dance)

In fact, the masked booby is also called the masked gannet, and both types of birds belong to the family Sulidae. Disney Wish is currently featuring a stage production of The Little Mermaid, though Scuttle does not make any significant appearance.

Guests aboard Disney cruise ships in the Caribbean have a good chance of seeing a masked booby, as the birds are found year-round in the region. Sightings are possible from all Florida homeports that Disney ships use – Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale, and Miami – and the birds may be seen in the Bahamas, including at Disney Cruise Line’s private island, Castaway Cay.

The masked booby is not the first bird to have become an inadvertent guest aboard a cruise ship. In March 2023, a burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) stowed away aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas during a two-week sailing, after which it was successfully captured, rehabilitated, and released in appropriate South Florida habitat.

In 2010, another burrowing owl had been a brief resident aboard Oasis of the Seas, but was quickly relocated without setting sail.

Small birds are often spotted on ships, especially during fall migration, and gulls often take advantage of outdoor eating spaces to snag leftover pizza crusts or fries – though many cruise ships are installing soft nets to keep birds from getting stuck or becoming a nuisance.

Guests can also spot many amazing birds right from cruise ships or while visiting ports of call, such as frigatebirds nesting on rocky cliffs or soaring far above while at sea; tropical hummingbirds on colorful Caribbean islands; or fierce and feisty gulls at port facilities.

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