SeaWorld releases rescued manatees into Indian River

By Kirstin O’Connor - Reporter/Anchor

PORT ST. JOHN, Fla. - With a winter chill still in the air, marine biologists are moving quickly to release two rescued manatees at SeaWorld back to the wild.

The two new manatees are joining a crowd of sea cows around the FPL power plant sitting on the Indian River. Biologists helping to assist with the release said the power plant tends to consistently put out warm water, and is one of the warm spots they try to teach manatees to remember during the winter.

"We let them go in the warm water, they swim out into the river and they realize that's cold, they swim right back into the warm water and they've learned something that their mother normally would've taught them," said Ann Spellman, biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But the 50-mile drive from SeaWorld is just the start of the journey. Each of the mammals weighs well over 600 pounds, which takes a team of eight biologists to measure, carry, and deliver onto a small boat.

Each of the naive manatees is released with a tracking system to ensure they do not wander away from the warm water before the spring.

"What we do is attach the GPS tag to the belt so that even when the manatee's resting like 4 feet below the water surface we can still locate them," said Melody Fischer, with Sea to Shore Alliance.

Spellman said the first manatee, Stokes, has been rescued more than once because he's run into trouble in water that's not habitable for manatees.

The second, named Squiggy, was rescued as a 35-pound calf near Merritt Island and will be testing the waters for the first time.

Florida Fish and Wildlife said at least a dozen manatees have been released in the last month and a half. These are the last two naive manatees to be released during the winter season near the FPL power plant.

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