Earlier this week, Randall the manatee was returned to the wild after spending nearly a year in rehabilitation following his stranding in Camp Branch Creek in the Rodman Reservoir complex in Putnam County.
“Randall’s case is not unique. Every year, manatees become entrapped and require assistance. As in this instance, the public can help by reporting trapped manatees and can help prevent entrapments from occurring in the first place,” said Jim Valade, Manatee Recovery Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
“FWC was alerted to Randall’s situation by Florida Department of Environmental Protection staff who reported seeing him in an area that was not normally accessible to manatees,” he said. “After Randall’s rescue, changes were made to prevent manatees from getting into that area again. This is an issue where we are trying to be more proactive and the public can play an important role in helping us help manatees.”
According to the FWC statistics, over the last 10 years:
- 115 manatees have been rescued after being trapped in and/or behind culverts, ditches, water control structures and in navigation lock recesses;
- 22 manatees have died after becoming trapped in such places;
- Trapped manatees are generally 7 feet to 10 feet long and sometimes include cow-calf pairs — though the issue is not specific to sex and nearly equal numbers of male and female manatees have been affected;
- The problem has been reported throughout the year and occurs in most counties where manatees live, with nearly equal numbers on the east and west coasts of the state.
There are a variety of reasons why manatees get trapped, according to Valade. “Entrapments generally happen throughout the year, although extremely high seasonal tides can be one cause. Manatees may swim into an area during a high tide, then when the tide goes out, they’re stranded.”
In other cases, manatees may be seeking shelter in warm water areas or looking for fresh water; sometimes they swim into a culvert and hit a dead end.
“But entrapments like Randall’s can be prevented,” Valade said.
Municipalities and companies that install new pipes, culverts and other structures that could be accessible and cause problems for manatees are asked by permitting agencies, when necessary, to include manatee protection devices in their designs to prevent manatee access. “The FWC, the USFWS and other agencies work with permit applicants to ensure that protection devices are installed on these structures where needed,” Valade said. Owners of existing structures in need of protection devices can obtain information from the following websites:
Sometimes officials don’t realize there’s a problem until after an animal gets stuck — that was the case in 2015 when 20 manatees were caught behind a stormwater drain in Satellite Beach in Brevard County. While all of the animals were rescued and released unharmed, the rescues were dangerous and required considerable staff time and resources. With a grate installed and properly maintained, entrapments there have been prevented and should no longer be a concern.
The public plays a critical role in helping to report trapped, sick, stranded and injured animals. 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.
All manatee rescue footage is produced by SeaWorld under the FWS Permit Number MA770191.