Bike Tire Manatee Returns Tire-Free
By Ally Greco, Director of Communications and Outreach
A manatee who became completely encircled in a bicycle tire last season has returned to Blue Spring State Park for the winter, tire-free. Partners from the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), who had attempted several rescues earlier this year, confirmed that it was the same individual manatee. Named “Schwinn” by researchers and nicknamed “Wheelie” by concerned citizens last season, the manatee now bears deep scars from the entanglement injury. Schwinn will continue to be closely monitored.
Beginning in November 2019, representatives from the MRP, including Save the Manatee Club, Blue Spring State Park, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Volusia County, SeaWorld, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, attempted to rescue the manatee from Blue Spring State Park, hoping to release it from the tire. MRP representatives and other staff members monitored the area seven days a week and made several rescue attempts. Due to the difficulties involved in making a safe rescue among hundreds of other manatees staying warm in the spring, Schwinn became wary and evaded rescue boats, research canoes, or approaching in-water biologists, making it impossible to safely rescue the tire-encircled manatee.
Manatees are somewhat migratory animals that cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to cold water temperatures. They spend winters in Florida’s warm water sites, like springs and power plant effluents, and summers traveling freely around rivers and coastal waters throughout the southeastern United States. Schwinn was first reported with the entanglement in October 2019 in Fernandina Beach and eventually migrated to Blue Spring for the winter season. No one knows where Schwinn spent this past summer, as no sightings were reported.
As a cold front swept across Florida in early December, manatees began making their annual return to Blue Spring State Park. Manatee Research Associate Cora Berchem of Save the Manatee Club first sighted the manatee on the above-water livestreaming webcam on December 4, 2020. She was screening the webcams as usual when she noticed Schwinn. Officials from FWC and other MRP partner agencies confirmed the sighting. “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,” explains Berchem.
Experts cannot determine exactly how the manatee escaped the encircling tire. Schwinn the manatee was superficially struck by a boat’s propeller in February 2020 and was only inches from a potential lethal blow.
Since his visit in early December, Schwinn has been a regular winter visitor to Blue Spring State Park. He was captured on the manatee webcams again on December 21, 2020. Unfortunately, he was struck by a boat again in late January 2021, which gave him a new, obvious scar running down the middle of his back. Watercraft injuries remain the leading cause of manatee mortality. Schwinn’s story shows the resilience and strength manatees possess despite their many challenges.
Florida’s boaters are reminded this winter to always obey posted speed zones, avoid dedicated manatee sanctuaries, and look for signs of submerged or surfacing manatees. Residents are reminded to prevent pollution in our waterways by disposing properly of their trash and monofilament fishing line and removing other litter from our waterways when boating. Entangled manatees should always be reported to the FWC, and entanglements should only be removed by wildlife officials. Report entangled, injured, sick, or orphaned manatees to the FWC by calling 1-888-404-3922. Visit savethemanatee.org/resources to order a free boat decal with this phone number and other boater resources.