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Manatee released back into Florida waters after 15-month recovery at ZooTampa

A hiker found the manatee stranded when she was rescued back in March 2021.

TAMPA, Fla — When Bellissima was rescued, she weighed but 750 pounds. 

A manatee her size should have weighed well over 1,000 pounds. That was back on March 9, 2021, and ZooTampa said her condition was dire.

"She was emaciated and had severe wounds to her body and flippers from exposure," the zoo said in a news release.

The manatee, named Bellissima, who gets her name from the Italian word for "beautiful," was rescued from Beautiful Island near Ft. Myers when a hiker found her stranded. Following a 15-month recovery, Bellissima weighs 1,445 pounds and is back to being healthy.

"She looks like a completely different manatee," Director of Conservation for ZooTampa Tiffany Burns said in a statement. "It's always a good day when we can return a manatee back to the wild. The resilience of manatees always inspires us, and Bellissima is no exception."

She has received consistent daily wound care and hydrotherapy for almost four months from dedicated medical and animal care teams. 

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“Bellissima has been a true testament to the incredibly resilient nature of these amazing animals. Watching her recovery after her fight to survive stranded on an island has been a true marvel,” Director of Animal Health Dr. Melissa Nau said in a statement. 

ZooTampa is one of four critical care centers in the U.S. and has cared for more than 500 manatees. The care center says the majority of their patients return to the wild. According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, release locations are determined based on where they were rescued.

If you come across a sick, stranded or injured manatee, residents can help save manatees by reporting to FWC at 1-888-404-3922.

RELATED: Manatees still face obstacles, but experts say more help is coming

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