Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens had been caring for five manatees at the Manatee Critical Care Center – the most animals that have been housed in the facility at the same time – and celebrated their successful release at Blue Spring State Park this week.
From Manatee Rescue to Release: A 4-year-long Journey
Females Amelia and Irma were released on Monday after spending almost a year at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Their manatee rescue story began four years ago.
These two manatees were rescued as orphaned calves and taken to SeaWorld Orlando in 2017. Orphaned manatees need to be large enough before they can return to the wild, so Amelia and Irma came to Jacksonville on February 20, 2020 to continue their development.
Three males were also released at Blue Spring on Tuesday, each coming to the Zoo this winter to be treated for symptoms of cold stress including skin lesions and dehydration. When manatees spend too much time in water colder than 68 degrees, cold stress starts to occur and will affect many organ systems.
Manatees migrate to warm water sources in the winter, such as springs and powerplant discharges, but sometimes become entrapped in areas with cold water and may not make it to the warmer water. Two of the males were entrapped and rescued in Merritt Island on Dec. 29 and Jan. 11. The third was rescued in the Ortega River in Jacksonville on Jan. 18.
The releases at Blue Spring were assisted by the Zoo’s partners in the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), including the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Save the Manatee Club, and Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI).
Staff from Blue Spring and the Volusia County Marine Mammal Stranding Team also provided help. Each manatee was outfitted with a satellite tag and will be monitored by CMARI to ensure they are adapting in the wild and staying in the warm water.
“Releasing these animals not only marks the successful rehabilitation of five more manatees, it also frees up critical space so additional manatees can be treated at our Zoo.
This has been a tough winter for manatees, so we hope we can help a few more with our partners in the MRP.
It truly takes a team to protect this threatened species and I could not be prouder of the dedication of all those involved with this program,” said Craig Miller, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Curator of Mammals.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Manatee Critical Care Center is an acute care, rehabilitation facility that provides life-saving medical treatment to rescued manatees. The manatee rescue and rehabilitation program is the Zoo’s largest regional conservation initiative, caring for 27 manatees and releasing 21 since the Center opened in 2017.
Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, along with other zoos, aquariums, non-profit organizations, and state and federal agencies, comprise the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership and work together to monitor the health and survival of rehabilitated and released manatees.
Visit the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership for more information about manatees currently being tracked.
Florida manatees are a federally-protected threatened species, at significant risk from both natural and human threats. Exposure to red tide, cold stress, disease, boat strikes, crushing by floodgates and locks, line entanglement, and ingestion of pollution and debris are just some of the hazards facing one of Florida’s most iconic animals.
To report an injured marine mammal, call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC) or dial *FWC on a cellular device.
About Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
For over 100 years, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens has aimed to inspire the discovery and appreciation of wildlife through innovative experiences in a caring environment.
Starting in 1914 with an animal collection of one red deer fawn, the Zoo now has more than 2,000 rare and exotic animals and 1,000 species of plants, boasting the largest botanical garden in Northeast Florida.
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is a nonprofit organization and a portion of every ticket sold goes to the over 45 conservation initiatives Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens supports around the world, and here in NE Florida. JZG is proud to be an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Visit Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens to find out more.