APOLLO BEACH, Fla. — As Florida's beloved manatees continue to face starvation and need help to survive, it's always wonderful to see a successful rehabilitation story.
That's exactly what happened during the mild, cool morning Tuesday at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center.
ZooTampa and TECO Manatee Viewing Center workers released two rehabilitated manatees into the warm water — Corduroy and Pebbles.
Corduroy was up first and must have been ready to get into the water as the large sea cow flapped his tail several times before he was hoisted from the back of the truck.
His impatience and perhaps excitement to get back to the open water made him a bit restless, but workers kept him safe and secure as they guided him to the water on a large tarp.
He slid into the water as applause erupted from those who had worked so hard to get Corduroy to this point.
According to ZooTampa, Corduroy, a juvenile male manatee, was rescued about a year ago from Bear Creek in St. Petersburg with head trauma and a propeller wound across his face. The zoo said that while he survived he was left with neurological issues and multiple skull fractures.
As soon as he arrived in the care of ZooTampa, he was "monitored closely" and was tube-fed daily. Eventually, he made a "remarkable" recovery and is now getting a second chance back in the wild.
He has completely healed from his neurological issues and skull fractures, the zoo said in a release.
Up next was Pebbles, a female juvenile manatee. ZooTampa says the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) rescued her in February 2021 after she was found suffering from wounds from a boat strike, cold stress and malnutrition. In fact, the zoo said she weighed only 390 pounds when she was rescued.
That's compared to her now-healthy weight of 915 pounds two years later.
There are still many manatees still in rehabilitation centers across Florida and the country, however. About 79 manatees are being treated at three places in Florida: SeaWorld in Orlando, and zoos in Tampa and Jacksonville. This is happening amid a chronic starvation problem caused by water pollution.
According to data from the FWC, 800 manatees died in 2022. This is down from the peak of the manatee crisis seen in 2021 with a record 1,100 manatee deaths.
That's led to cautious optimism as authorities continue an experimental lettuce feeding program at a power plant on Florida's east coast, where manatees typically gather in winter.