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Flapjack Rescued Again; More Releases

Manatee rescuers use a hoop net to capture orphaned manatee calf Tink Tink. 
Photo by Save the Manatee Club.
Manatee rescuers use a hoop net to capture orphaned manatee calf Tink Tink. Photo by Save the Manatee Club.

By Cora Berchem, Director of Multimedia and Manatee Research Associate

MaryKate (left) and Tink Tink (right) during transport after their rescues. Photos by Save the Manatee Club.

Late winter to early spring was a busy time for manatee releases in Florida. Six manatees were released back into their natural habitat at Blue Spring State Park in early February, and 12 more followed the next week in Crystal River. All manatees were outfitted with satellite tracking devices so they can be monitored by researchers from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute as part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) to make sure they adapt well to life back out in the wild. Among two of the manatees released at Blue Spring were Tink Tink and MaryKate—two manatees who were spotted as orphaned calves by Save the Manatee Club (SMC) staff in 2021. Both were hoop-netted out of the spring run, a common practice for small manatees. Instead of deploying a large net with lead lines on the bottom and float lines on the top, researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) catch the smaller-size manatees with a hoop net. In Tink Tink’s case, this was done from the rescue boat, but in MaryKate’s case, SMC and FWC worked together and hoop-netted the little calf from the research canoe, paddled her over to the canoe launch beach, and loaded her into the rescue truck—a first ever for that method! Both were initially rehabilitated at SeaWorld Orlando before Tink Tink was moved to the Georgia Aquarium, and MaryKate spent some additional rehab time at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Once they both reached 800 pounds, they were transported back to Florida for release.

Flapjack’s health stats are recorded during his second rescue. Photo courtesy of FWC.

Rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing a manatee is always a big partner-driven effort, as shown in the story of another manatee: Flapjack. Flapjack was initially rescued when he was found extremely emaciated in October 2021 in the Weeki Wachee River on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Flapjack was rehabilitated at ZooTampa at Lowry Park and made an incredible recovery leading up to his release in 2022. This March, a citizen reported an apparently entrapped manatee in Clam Bayou in St. Petersburg, Florida. Entrapments can happen when manatees get into normally blocked areas during a high tide or flooding event, but once the water level drops back down, they are unable to leave the area. Unfortunately, these areas are oftentimes very large, and the water is turbid, making it extremely difficult to verify a manatee sighting and to re-locate the manatee. In this case, SMC helped by deploying a drone on three different occasions trying to find the manatee, which finally proved successful, and the aerial images, as well as a better description of the location, were shared with our partners at FWC. It was determined that the manatee was indeed entrapped, and on April 9, FWC and partners from ZooTampa, Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA), and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office rescued the manatee, which turned out to have a thin body condition. Every rescued and rehabilitated manatee is outfitted with a PIT tag (similar to microchips implanted in pets), and scanning this manatee revealed… it was Flapjack once again! Since his initial release in the Weeki Wachee River, making a trip about 70 miles south to St. Petersburg was impressive. Although not in as poor a body condition as during his initial rescue, Flapjack was underweight, so he was transported to SeaWorld Orlando for rehabilitation.

With the onset of summer, we have already seen an uptick in rescues because of watercraft collisions, so it is extremely important to continue watching out for manatees while boating. Many sightings of sick and injured manatees come from citizen reports.

Currently, many MRP partners are expanding their rehabilitation facilities, building new facilities, or retrofitting others to accommodate a continued influx of rescued manatees. For example, Gulfarium Marine Park in Destin, Florida, and Zoo Miami recently joined the MRP. Additionally, CMA is building a rehab facility, The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is testing out a new facility in Myakka on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and SeaWorld, ZooTampa, and Jacksonville Zoo are adding additional pools to increase their capacities.

All research, rescue, rehab, and release activities conducted under DEP permit #01122413 and USFWS permits #MA770191 and #MA791721-6.

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