Tales from the Spring: Manatee Rescue and Release
By Cora Berchem, Director of Multimedia & Manatee Research Associate
As part of our manatee research at Blue Spring State Park, Wayne Hartley, our Manatee Specialist, and I monitor the manatees that visit the park for cold stress, malnourishment, boat strikes, or other injuries and illnesses and provide assistance to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) with manatee rescue and release. This season, we assisted with the rescue of a small calf and got an update on another young manatee. We also welcomed manatees back to Blue Spring that we had helped in the past and assisted with several releases.
At the beginning of December, our research team at Blue Spring noticed a very small female calf that didn’t seem to be associating with any mother. She was trying to nurse from multiple females but, unfortunately, was often pushed away.
We informed our partners from the FWC and kept monitoring the calf for several days, both in person as well as via our webcams. Calves usually depend on their mother for up to two years, during which they learn migration routes and how to find food and warm water. The decision was made to intervene and rescue the little orphaned calf on December 2. In addition to being orphaned, the calf had cold stress lesions on her snout and flippers.
With the help of FWC and Volusia County, the calf was rescued and brought to SeaWorld Orlando for treatment. The critical care staff named the little calf “Tink Tink.” After just a few days of receiving supplemental fluids and medication, Tink Tink started to eat on her own. In mid-February, our staff had the chance to visit Tink Tink at SeaWorld. At that time, she had already graduated to the bigger front pool with a number of other manatees.
At a weight of 175 pounds, Tink Tink is now stable, but she needs to reach a weight of 600 pounds before she can be released back into the wild. In early March, Tink Tink and Clank, another manatee rescued in Brevard County, were moved to the Georgia Aquarium to continue their rehabilitation there. The aquarium just joined the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) to provide additional space for rehabilitating manatees in need. Tink Tink and Clank are the first patients the aquarium is welcoming.
MaryKate, another small calf we helped rescue at Blue Spring State Park in early 2021, was recently transferred to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio for continued care until she can be released. MaryKate was malnourished when she was rescued at Blue Spring. She made great progress at SeaWorld Orlando and then was transferred to the Columbus Zoo for continued rehabilitation. More manatees are currently in need of rescue and rehabilitation because of the Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in Florida. Her move freed up bed space at critical care facilities like SeaWorld Orlando.
We were pleased to see several manatees we had assisted before back for the season at Blue Spring. Moira-Rose, a large pregnant female, had been rescued for severe cold stress in February 2021 and was released back into the natural environment in March. She came back to Blue Spring this season with a healthy calf in tow! Chloe, who was rescued for a flipper entanglement and released in May 2021, also returned to the park this winter, along with Mandy and her yearling calf Manilow. Adoptee Lesley, who was in rehabilitation for a watercraft injury for almost three years and released in January 2021, also returned to Blue Spring pregnant this winter!
In addition, we assisted with the release of seven manatees at Blue Spring over the course of the winter—all of which are fitted with transmitter devices or tags as part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) to continue monitoring their movement.
Thank you to all of our MRP partners who played a part in the reporting, rescue, rehabilitation, and release of these manatees. The MRP works as a cooperative of agencies, organizations, and oceanaria to rescue, rehabilitate, and release manatees. Remember to always report sick and injured manatees to the FWC at 1-888-404-3922.
All activities conducted under permit #MA770191, #MA791721-5, and DEP #02042213.