Record number of rehabilitated manatees returned to natural habitat in 1 day

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12 of these sea creatures were successfully released back to Florida waters

Photo courtesy of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

Photo courtesy of Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) has successfully released a record 12 manatees back to their natural habitat, Blue Spring State Park, in a single day. This vital warm-water manatee habitat is among the largest winter gathering sites for the species in Florida, following their successful rehabilitation.

According to an organizational release,1 most of these manatees were rescued as orphaned calves during the ongoing unusual mortality event (UME), which currently, has left thousands of animals malnourished and starving. The animals were cared by expert MRP partners—including Aquarium Encounters, Brevard Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Walt Disney World Resort, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Miami Seaquarium, Save the Manatee Club, SeaWorld Orlando and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—and spent the last several years rehabilitating at these facilities.

“Over the past several years, we have been called upon to rescue an alarmingly high number of injured, sick and starving manatees off the Florida coastline,” expressed Monica Ross, chairman of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership and director of Manatee Research and Conservation for Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, in the release. “Through the efforts of the MRP partners, I am thrilled that we were able to return the highest number of manatees to their natural environment in a single day.”1

The released manatees are1:

  • Asha: An orphan calf rescued in early 2021, who completed her rehabilitation at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
  • Scampi: A small calf who was rescued in 2019 and completed her rehabilitation at Miami Seaquarium, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at EPCOT (Walt Disney World Resort).
  • Ferret: An orphan calf who was rescued in early 2021 and rehabilitated by Miami Seaquarium.
  • Finch: An orphan calf rescued in early 2021, who completed his rehabilitation at Miami Seaquarium.
  • Artemis: A very small, 51-pound orphan calf rescued in summer 2020. She completed her rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando.
  • Bianca: A calf of an injured mother, rescued in spring 2021. She was rehabilitated by SeaWorld Orlando.
  • Inigo: A 9-foot adult male rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) in 2021 due to UME-related causes. He completed his rehabilitation at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. After suffering a boat strike soon after his release in August 2022, he was rescued a second time and completed his rehabilitation at both Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and SeaWorld Orlando.
  • Lilpeep: An orphan calf rescued in the spring of 2021 and transported to SeaWorld Orlando for rehabilitation, then to Aquarium Encounters for continued rehabilitation. He was returned to SeaWorld Orlando for pre-release preparation.
  • Maximoff: An orphan calf rescued in early 2021 and rehabilitated by SeaWorld Orlando.
  • Alby: A small, 51-pound orphan rescued in 2019. He was rehabilitated by SeaWorld Orlando, before being transported to Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden for longer term rehabilitation. He was returned to SeaWorld Orlando for pre-release preparation.
  • Manhattan: An orphan rescued in fall of 2019, initially rehabilitated by SeaWorld Orlando before being transported to Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden for full rehabilitation. He was returned to SeaWorld Orlando for pre-release preparation.
  • Swimshady: An orphan rescued in late 2020. He was brought to SeaWorld Orlando for rehabilitation before being transported to Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden for continued rehabilitation. He was then returned to SeaWorld Orlando for pre-release preparation.

“Today we want to recognize the outstanding dedication and efforts made by the stranding network partners and the MRP organizations who worked together to rescue and rehabilitate these 12 manatees,” shared Andy Garrett, manatee rescue coordinator from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “We are excited that those who safely rescued, transported and cared for these manatees are here now as we return them into Blue Spring to start the final phase of their recovery.”1

Each manatee will wear GPS tracking devices so researchers can monitor their movement and ensure their adaptation to their natural habitat for the next year. The information collected through routine behavior monitoring is key to understanding how orphan manatees acclimate to the natural habitat and find warm water for winter survival without the skills they should have acquired from their mothers. Additionally, monitoring will be critical to the further understanding of how manatees are adjusting to the fluctuating habitat conditions they need for survival and enable animal care specialists to ensure young animals are learning migration routes. It will also help improve treatments for animals suffering from malnutrition or starvation because of the UME.

Reference

Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) returns a record 12 manatees to natural habitat in a single day. News release. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. February 14, 2023. Accessed February 16, 2023. https://www.columbuszoo.org/home/about/press-releases/press-release-articles/2023/02/14/manatee-rescue-and-rehabilitation-partnership-(mrp)-returns-a-record-12-manatees-to-natural-habitat-in-a-single-day

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