Thanks to a collaborative rescue effort over the weekend, two manatees may have second chances at life. A pregnant manatee was rescued by Mote Marine Laboratory and partners, and taken to SeaWorld Orlando, where the manatee has since given birth to a calf.
The Saturday before Mother’s Day, May 9, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium Stranding Biologist Jess Blackburn, along with Sarasota Police Department Marine Patrol Officer Michael Skinner, responded to a call to Mote’s 24/7 Stranding Investigations Program hotline (941-988-0212) about a distressed manatee near Harbor Towers Yacht & Racquet Club on Siesta Key. The manatee was exhibiting abnormal behavior, including not being able to dive properly. Upon arriving at the scene, Blackburn realized the manatee was the same individual she had received calls about and searched for the day before, and quickly contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to begin to stage a rescu e effort for the manatee.
“Immediately, I noticed that the manatee was listing to one side, and had both healed and fresh boat strike wounds,” said Blackburn. “Those kinds of wounds likely caused air to be trapped in the manatee’s chest cavity, making it difficult for the animal to submerge efficiently. Given the busy area and heavy boat traffic, we knew it would be very difficult for her to avoid any other potential boat collisions.”
After Mote’s initial response, FWC led the rescue effort, as additional trained responders from Mote, Sarasota Police Department, and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office descended upon the scene to assist the manatee. A crowd gathered on the shoreline to watch the action. The manatee was safely netted onto a boat and transferred into a transport truck–—no small feat with a nearly 1,700-pound animal—headed for rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando, one of four critical care fa cilities for manatees in the state of Florida and a member of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP).
“The Sarasota Police Department Marine Patrol officers as well as other patrol officers have an ongoing partnership with Mote’s Stranding Investigations team,” said Sarasota Police Officer Michael Skinner. “Over the weekend, we were called to assist with an injured manatee along with our partners at Mote, FWC and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office. We all work together on the road and on the water. We hate to see injured wildlife in our waterways but we’re hoping this team effort was enough to help give this manatee a second chance.”
“It was an amazing opportunity to rescue, along with partners from Mote, FWC law enforcement, Sarasota Police Department and Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, an expectant mother manatee on Mother’s Day weekend,” said Denise Boyd, Marine Mammal Research Associate at FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. “They are being taken care of by the animal care team at SeaWorld Orlando, and we are hopeful for a successful outcome. This rescue highlights the partnerships that are critical in manatee conservation efforts. Please remember to wear polarized glasses and be on the lookout for manatees while boating. Please report dead or distressed marine mammals to allow trained experts to respond.”
During the veterinarian exam at SeaWorld Orlando, the animal was found to be pregnant. On Tuesday, May 12, the manatee gave birth to a healthy calf. SeaWorld Orlando’s rehabilitation team continues to monitor both mother and calf aroun d the clock. The mother manatee is being treated for her injuries, and although stable, she is still in critical condition.
“After getting the call, our team reacted quickly to accept this manatee into our care and our team of veterinarians at the SeaWorld Manatee Rehabilitation Center is providing around the clock surveillance,” said Jon Peterson, Vice President Zoological Operations, SeaWorld Orlando. “Our facility is only one of four in Florida designated for critical care of manatees and we work tirelessly with the goal of rehabilitating and returning rescued manatees to the wild.” This is the 17th manatee to be treated at SeaWorld in 2020.
“These are the good days. When all of our partners come together, from our city, county, and state law enforcement officers, to the FWC stranding biologists that led the rescue, to the SeaWorld Orlando team now caring for her and her calf, it is our stranding network at its finest,” said Gretchen Lovewell, Manager of Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program. “I also want to thank the members of the public who reported the animal. Please, always remember to call us for any distressed or deceased marine mammal or sea turtle in the Sarasota and Manatee County area, and FWC throughout the rest of Florida.”