Conservation Guide: SeaWorld Expands Manatee Care Facility
Her name is number 44. She was given this auspicious name because she is the 44th manatee rescued by SeaWorld in 2022. Despite the severity of her injuries, she is a happy girl being treated at SeaWorld Orlando’s manatee rehabilitation area.
“This animal came in with extremely deep propeller wounds,” explains Brant Gabriel, Supervisor of Rescue, SeaWorld Orlando. “Judging by the size of the injuries, I’d say it may have come from a larger barge.”
They brought in number 44 with her baby who was not yet weaned. “The baby stays with her, is no longer cared for, but eats enough lettuce to continuously gain weight,” says Gabriel. “Everyone wants their kids to grow big and strong, and we’re doing the same. We make sure these little guys keep gaining weight.”
Number 44 is just one of many manatees to be cared for at SeaWorld in 2022. As of August 25, SeaWorld has rescued 52 manatees at its Orlando facility, and the number continues to grow. SeaWorld has grown into one of the largest manatee rescue operations in the world and maintains one of only five critical care manatee facilities in the country.
The manatee population has gone extinct in large numbers, particularly along Florida’s Atlantic coast. In 2021, approximately 1,100 manatees died, or 15 percent of the total Florida population. The cause is a lack of food because the seagrass meadows are being destroyed by toxic algae blooms and pollutants.
Gabriel agrees that the lack of vegetation is a huge problem. “Our rescue numbers were increased last winter. The manatees congregate around the hot water springs, so there are enormous numbers of manatees trying to feed around the same vegetation.”
Food isn’t a problem at SeaWorld, where they get two huge shipments of romaine lettuce every week to feed the recovering mammals.
To give you an idea of how much lettuce is in this shipment, it’s estimated that a manatee eats about 10 to 15 percent of its body weight on vegetation each day. To break that down, a 1,000-pound manatee would most likely eat between 100 and 150 pounds a day. When you consider that many adult manatees weigh between 2,600 and 2,800 pounds and can even grow to 3,500 pounds, that’s a lot of romaine.
The most dangerous time of year for manatees is April 1 through November 15, when manatee zones force boaters to slow down to avoid killing or injuring manatees, similar to Number 44. Boat strikes are another major threat to Florida -manatees.
The future of number 44
When they brought number 44 to SeaWorld, their situation was dire. “The front left fin, or pectoral fin, of this manatee was partially amputated,” explains Gabriel. “A few surgeries later, the upper pectoral fin was surgically removed. There’s still a lot of healing going on, a lot of scar tissue.”
Heidy Clifford, senior vet technician at SeaWorld Orlando, is treating number 44 with laser therapy to promote healing. They also use massage therapy to ensure the muscles are healing properly.
The vet techs work in a tri-pool complex with a large circular pool flanked by two slightly smaller oval pools. SeaWorld recently expanded all three pools and connected them with shade covers. Rather than diving into the tanks to treat the manatees, SeaWorld has a critical care elevator that safely raises the animals to the waterline for medical care and treatment, and for health checks.
Their primary goal is rehabilitation and return to their natural habitat. Gabriel is optimistic about number 44’s chances. “She has had previous births in her natural habitat. She had a baby and was breastfeeding the baby when she walked in. The baby no longer breastfeeds and eats salad. She’s completing her healing process and despite having a fin, she’s definitely a candidate for dismissal; As soon as she is medically cleared, we will release her.”
Gabriel emphasizes that this is a team effort. SeaWorld is a member of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), which includes other key partners and manatee rescue centers such as the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, South Florida Museum and Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park .
And your name?
The number 44 is controversial. The Egyptians consider it one of the luckiest numbers while the Chinese consider it the most unlucky, synonymous with death. Anyway, number 44 will soon lose this lucky or unlucky nickname. Gabriel explains: “The doctor who has invested so much time and energy in this case is offered the opportunity to give her name.”
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