On July 18th, four West Indian manatees were released at the Eddy Creek boat ramp in Canaveral National Seashore after several months of rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando. The release of such a large number of manatees at one time has rarely been done.
One of the park’s seven federally endangered species, manatees can often be seen lolling in the shallow waters of Mosquito Lagoon during warmer months of the year. The manatee is threatened by loss of habitat, mortality associated with human interactions, and a low reproductive rate. This makes saving injured individuals, whenever possible, a high priority.
The four individuals were rescued several months earlier in two separate incidents after exhibiting signs of distress. All were taken to Sea World Orlando.
Park staff, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and SeaWorld participated in the rescue. One of manatee was having buoyancy problems; it was seen listing to one side and having difficulty diving. The others, two adults and a juvenile, had gotten through a culvert into a mosquito impoundment. Unable to get back out and lacking adequate forage, they quickly became malnourished.
The capture involved pulling a net through chest-deep water, sloughing through knee-deep muck and keeping a wary eye on alligators and a water moccasin that was spotted belatedly only 15 feet away. Fortunately the snake stayed put and the manatees were netted. The park provided a backhoe to lift the 400+ pound animals out of the ditch and into a truck.
The primary range of the West Indian manatee is the southeastern United States but it can occasionally range as far north as New England and as far west as Texas. It is always a delightful experience for the observant visitor who spots these unique animals frolicking in Mosquito Lagoon.