MIAMI (CBS Miami)
Good news for the cows of the sea: A Florida coalition of government agencies, wildlife rehabilitation groups and conservation organizations has released an “unprecedented” 12 manatees into the wild in a single day, according to a news release from the Save the Manatee Club.
The Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership announced the release on Tuesday. The 12 animals were released into Blue Spring State Park, one of the largest winter gathering sites for the species in Florida, on Monday, according to the news release.
“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,” said Monica Ross, chairman of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership and director of manatee research and conservation at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, in the news 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.”
Many of the manatees released were rescued as orphaned calves, according to the release. All underwent rehabilitation at expert facilities to prepare for their return to the wild.
The manatees were all outfitted with GPS tracking devices to “allow researchers the ability to monitor manatee movement and ensure their acclimation to their natural habitat for the next year,” according to the release. Data collected from the tracking devices will provide insight into how orphaned manatees adapt to the wild without the skills they would have learned from their mothers, like migrating to warmer waters.
Florida’s beloved manatees are the state’s official marine mammal and are listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. Between 7,520 and 10,280 manatees make their homes in Florida’s water, according to the state’s 2015-2016 estimates. The marine mammals can grow up to 13 feet long, weigh more than 3,500 pounds, and live up to 60 years, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Since 2020, the species has experienced an “unusual mortality event” marked by a high level of deaths and manatees needing rescue. Some of the deaths have been tied to starvation due to the loss of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon, one of the animal’s most important habitats, triggering officials to start distributing lettuce to supplement the manatees’ diets.
According to the news release, some of the released manatees were orphaned when their mothers starved to death as part of the unusual mortality event.