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Reckless And Churro Go Home!

A young manatee facing forward, resting on a tarp while a rescue team prepares her for release.
Churro awaiting her initial release in Port Everglades. Photo by Save the Manatee Club.

By Cora Berchem, Director of Multimedia and Manatee Research Associate

It has been a busy winter for our partners from the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), with many rescues and releases across the state. Two of the most exciting and long-anticipated releases were of Reckless, and Churro, who both went home on January 18. Reckless and her newborn, dependent calf, nicknamed Churro, were rescued near Edgewater on Florida’s east coast in May 2022, with a catastrophic watercraft wound to her left shoulder. Both were transported to SeaWorld Orlando to receive treatment. Under expert care involving multiple surgeries, Reckless slowly started to improve while still caring for her calf. Her chances of survival were deemed minimal, but against all odds, Reckless pulled through and was able to make a full recovery.

“Reckless has been an extraordinarily resilient animal. I learned so much from this animal and she has been an absolute inspiration to me. She has shown us what these animals are able to be coming back from,” says Dr. Stacy DiRocco, Reckless’s veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando.

The hope was for Reckless and Churro—who weighed almost 700 pounds at release—to stay together so Reckless would be able to teach Churro how to migrate and find food and warm-water habitat. However, Churro was at the age and size where a manatee calf would usually depart from mom and go their own way, and that’s exactly what happened. Luckily, both manatees had been outfitted with satellite tracking devices by MRP partners at Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute. Shortly after release, researchers started to get very concerned when Reckless traveled north and Churro stayed by herself in a canal and started to pace—an indicator of stress. Although Reckless has a lot of experience in the wild and had a sighting history in South Florida, Churro was rescued at such a young age that she had not imprinted on any habitat yet. The decision was made to re-rescue Churro, and she was relocated to Blue Spring on January 25. She joined an aggregation of many manatees with whom she will hopefully socialize and learn from. Churro remains tagged so researchers can monitor her movements and adaptation to life in the wild.

In addition to Reckless and Churro, multiple other manatees were released this winter, making room for more incoming critical care cases at rehabilitation facilities. Many manatees rescued as orphans two or three years ago finally met the criteria for release, meaning that they reached a weight of at least 600 pounds, which allows them to survive on their own in the wild. Most of those manatees were released at natural warm-water sites like Blue Spring and Crystal River where they joined aggregations of hundreds of other manatees. The hope is that they will follow these manatees, learn how to find food, discover travel routes, and return next winter for the warm water of the spring.

All these “naive” manatees are outfitted with satellite tracking devices so researchers can monitor their movements. The devices don’t inhibit natural behavior and are designed with several weak links, so if the tag gets stuck on something, the device will break off and the manatee can swim away. It is important for the public to not interfere with these devices as they can literally be life-savers for newly released manatees. If data shows that the manatee is not leaving the warm-water refuge in the spring, or fails to return to a warm-water site with the onset of cold weather, researchers can interfere and relocate the manatee to more suitable habitat. All tagged manatees should be reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922. Public sightings oftentimes provide useful information to researchers, such as whether the manatee is alone, with a group, socializing, or feeding.

Among the other manatees released at Blue Spring were MaryKate and Tink Tink, both rescued as orphaned calves at Blue Spring with the help of Save the Manatee Club. It was heartwarming to see those two going back out, now at a weight of over 600 pounds and joining a large aggregation back in their natural habitat.

Watch a video highlighting Reckless’ amazing recovery and her return, along with Churro, back to the wild.

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