The 3 R's: Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release

A rescued manatee receives treatment.
A rescued manatee receives treatment at ZooTampa, one of the three critical care facilities in Florida. (Photo courtesy ZooTampa.)

The MRP's goal is to rescue sick and injured manatees, provide treatment at authorized rehabilitation facilities, and release them back into the wild. The MRP gives manatees a second chance.

Step 1- Rescue:

A manatee calf receives treatment.
A manatee calf is given a radiograph to help determine treatment. (Photo courtesy SeaWorld of Florida)

Rescues are coordinated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Biologists in five different field stations located around the state (in St. Petersburg, Port Charlotte, Tequesta, Melbourne, and Jacksonville) receive reports of distressed manatees via the agency's 24-hour Wildlife Alert Hotline (1-888-404-3922), and coordinate a response. FWC biologists, working with other MRP partners and permitted organizations and agencies, verify whether the reported manatee is in need of rescue. Reasons for rescue include watercraft injury, entanglement in fishing gear, red tide exposure, cold stress, entrapment, and natural illnesses. Orphaned calves also require rescue. Once a rescue has been deemed necessary, FWC biologists will work with partners to capture the distressed manatee and transport it to the nearest manatee critical care facility.

Step 2- Rehabilitation:

Rescued manatees are taken to special critical care facilities for treatment and rehabilitation. Four facilities, Miami Seaaquarium, SeaWorld of Florida, ZooTampa and Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens have been permitted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as designated manatee hospitals for the rescue and rehabilitation of wild manatees in need of critical care. Once stabilized, manatees are released or transferred to second stage care facilities to await the appropriate time for release. The facilities that provide this step-down care are the Cincinnati Zoo, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Walt Disney World's The Seas, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, and Bishop Museum of Science and Nature.

Step 3- Release & Post-Release Monitoring:

Post-release monitoring is a critical part of the process for some released manatees and includes tagging, tracking, and assessing the health of released manatees to ensure they are adapting to wild conditions. Monitoring also teaches us about preferred manatee habitats and travel paths. The program strives to be able to provide tagging and post-release monitoring for high risk manatees that need it. Through its monitoring efforts, led by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, the MRP studies the factors that affect the successful adaptation of rehabilitated manatees to life in the wild and strives to provide the best opportunities for success for these individual manatees. The MRP's monitoring protocol makes it possible to determine if intervention is required to prevent injury or death for one of the tagged manatees, due to mal-adjustment or other threats.

A rehabilitated manatee is released.
A rehabilitated manatee is released. (Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.)
Cheeno the manatee with tracking device.
A floating transmitter marks a tagged manatee in the wild. Please report sightings of tagged manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922. (Photo courtesy South Florida Museum.)