Zelda was given a name starting with the letter “Z” because the main scar on her back reminded researchers of a “Z.” She was first photo-documented in 2002 by our partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at the Florida Power & Light power plant at Fort Myers in southwest Florida. Because manatees are slow-moving, need to surface to breathe air, and prefer shallow water, they are vulnerable to collision with boats. Due to this, many manatees like Zelda are identified by permanent watercraft scars on their bodies and tails. Researchers use these scar patterns to identify and track manatees. They can learn important life details such as where individual manatees travel, what they eat, who they associate or mate with, and when (or if) they give birth to calves. For example, Zelda has been sighted with four different calves over the years. This information helps agencies and advocacy groups like Save the Manatee Club ensure that important habitat such as travel corridors, feeding areas, and warm-water refuges are protected.
After she was first identified in 2002, Zelda was sighted in a variety of different warm-water refuges in South Florida and the Gulf Coast. She was sighted at Manatee Park in Fort Myers during the winter months before she started showing up at the Tampa Electric Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, Florida, where she regularly returned between 2006-2008. Zelda was sighted in Terra Ceia Bay in 2007 and Sarasota Bay in 2009. After that, she disappeared for a few years, but, on March 12, 2014, Zelda was sighted in Marathon in the Florida Keys. She now seems to prefer South Florida, as subsequent sightings occurred in Key West in 2015 and 2017 and Summerland Key in 2019 and 2021. Most recently, Zelda was reported with a new calf in Summerland Key in May 2022! To protect manatees like Zelda as they travel, it is very important to boat slowly, especially around shallow seagrass beds and to not give manatees food or water.