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Free Wheelie: Manatee returns to Blue Spring without tire around waist

Wildlife group doesn’t know how tire got off

ORANGE CITY, Fla. – A manatee that a year ago was seen swimming around Blue Spring State Park with a bicycle tire cinching its waist has returned to the crystal clear waters free of the trap.

Officials from Save the Manatee Club said Friday they don’t know how the manatee managed to shake the tire lose but they mentioned that Wheelie, as the manatee was called by the public, was struck by a boat’s propeller in February and that strike cut and weakened the tire.

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“Schwinn the manatee was both lucky and unlucky, as the propeller was only inches from potentially striking a lethal blow. Watercraft injuries remain the leading cause of manatee mortality. Schwinn’s story shows the resilience and strength manatees possess despite their many challenges,” the club said in a news release.

Also called Schwinn by researchers, the manatee now has deep scars around its midsection where the bike tire was once entangled.

Attempts were made in December 2019 to capture Wheelie since rescue crews believed the tire could pose a risk to the animal but those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful due to pollution and debris in the water as well as Wheelie’s evasive maneuvers to avoid research canoes and in-water biologists.

Wheelie the manatee now has scars from where a bike tire was stuck around its waist.
Wheelie the manatee now has scars from where a bike tire was stuck around its waist. (Save the Manatee Club)

For now, the plan is to continue monitoring Wheelie closely. It’s unclear where the manatee spent its summer since it hadn’t been seen in months.

A cold front that moved in this week caused Wheelie and countless other manatees to migrate to the springs, where temperatures stay the same year-round. Sea cows can’t tolerate prolonged time in cold water.

Save the Manatee Club manatee research associate Cora Berchem first spotted Wheelie on Wednesday on an above-water livestreaming webcam. The sighting has since been confirmed by wildlife officials.

“The live webcams are not only great entertainment, but they’re also an excellent tool for our manatee sighting research and for monitoring aspects of the health status of manatees in the spring run,” Berchem said.

The club said it hopes Wheelie’s story serves as a reminder to properly dispose of trash, remove litter from waterways and watch out for wildlife, especially while boating.

Anyone who sees a sick, injured or entangled manatee is urged to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s wildlife alert toll-free hotline at 1-888-404-3922.


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