Four rehabilitated manatees were returned to their natural waterways this week by members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP): SeaWorld Orlando, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), South Florida Museum, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and Sea to Shore Alliance.
The goal with every rescue is to rehabilitate and return the animal to the wild as quickly as possible, but young manatee calves take additional time and resources. Each of the four manatees released this week was rescued at a young age and required extended rehabilitation and care.
Rescued manatee calves must weigh at least 600 pounds before they are considered by FWC as strong candidates for return. This weight is optimal to ensure that these native manatees will be less susceptible to cold stress syndrome as they face their first winter in their natural environment.
Gale was rescued as a young calf on Dec. 29, 2016, along with her injured mother, Tsunami, who was suffering from cold stress and other injuries. Unfortunately Gale’s mother succumbed to her injuries shortly after being rescued. Due to her young age, Gale remained in rehabilitation and was transferred to South Florida Museum as part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) where she was able to gain weight and prepare for her return.
Bambam was rescued Jan. 18, 2015, as a young calf suffering from severe cold stress. Once stable, he was flown to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden – an MRP partner – where he spent two years gaining weight and preparing for his return.
Cassie was rescued Aug. 26, 2015, as an orphaned calf in Ormond River. When Cassie arrived at SeaWorld Orlando she weighed just 66 pounds and required round-the-clock care, including bottle feedings every three hours. She has spent the last six months at the Jacksonville Zoo as part of the MRP. At the time of her return Cassie was tipping the scales at 890 pounds.
Buckeye was rescued as an orphaned calf in Daytona Beach on Sept. 8, 2015. When Buckeye was rescued, he weighed just 64.5 pounds and was estimated to be only a few weeks old. For the last six months, he has been receiving care at by MRP partners at the Jacksonville Zoo. At the time of his return he weighed 688 pounds.
Prior to return, FWC recorded final measurements of the animals while the Sea to Shore Alliance fitted three of the manatees with a tracking belt that will allow them to monitor the animals’ success and track their migration in the wild.
Information about manatees currently being tracked is available at www.manateerescue.org.
In addition to returning four rehabilitated manatees, SeaWorld Orlando also transferred a young rescued manatee to the Jacksonville Zoo.
As part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) facilities are able to work together shifting rehab animals between facilities to ensure future rescues are not turned away. With the Jacksonville Zoo taking this young rescue for continued rehabilitation, SeaWorld Orlando now has more space for future critical rescues.
The Florida manatee was recently reclassified from endangered to threatened, but is still at risk from both natural and human causes of injury and mortality. Exposure to red tide, cold stress and disease are all natural problems that can affect manatees. Human-caused threats include boat strikes, crushing by floodgates or locks, and entanglement in or ingestion of fishing gear. If you see an injured marine animal, you can help by calling the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or by dialing *FWC on a cellular device.