Rescue teams with SeaWorld Orlando and other marine and wildlife agencies rescued 10 manatees from the Cooper River near Charleston.
The manatees were spotted in the upper reaches of the Cooper River near a warm water outflow area, according to SeaWorld. Historically, manatees move south into warmer waters when the water temperature drops below 68 degrees. Due to rapidly dropping water temperatures in the river, the manatees remained close to the warm water outflow instead of continuing to travel south. In doing so, they were isolated from adequate food sources and naturally warm waters.
“We made the decision along with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to go intervene on these animals prior to them getting int a cold stress situation,” said SeaWorld Animal Rescue Manager Jon Peterson. “We know the temperatures are dropping. We know the rivers are already cold up there. If we can get to these animals before they get too cold, we actually might be able to relocate them and not have to bring them into rehabilitation.”
Nine of the manatees were able to be released into warmer water in Florida. One is being rehabilitated at the Jacksonville Zoo. She is doing well, SeaWorld reports.
The rescue took three days. All the manatees received health checks and the Sea to Shore Alliance tagged five of them before release and will monitor them as part of their Atlantic Coast manatee study.
“Our goal at SeaWorld is get them in as quick as we can, get them rehabilitated and return them back out to their natural environment as fast as possible,” Peterson said.
“This rescue operation had over 30 different people working together to care for these animals up in South Carolina. SeaWorld’s goal of rescue, rehabilitate and return these animals does not stop at the Florida line,” he said. “It’s anywhere inside the U.S. that we’re called.
In addition to SeaWorld Orlando’s team, support for the rescue effort included USFWS Ecological Services Office staff from Florida and South Carolina, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – including staff from St. Petersburg, the Northeast Florida Field Lab in Jacksonville, and the East Central Field Lab in Melbourne along with volunteers and law enforcement, Sea to Shore Alliance, ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, NOAA National Ocean Services – Charleston, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Clearwater (FL) Marine Aquarium, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, Brevard Zoo, Brevard County Parks and Recreation, Florida Wildlife Hospital, and Waterfront Solutions. Sea to Shore Alliance and local businesses played an integral role in monitoring the manatees’ activity and condition in the weeks leading up to the rescue effort.
“This is why it’s so important to have a great network of rescue teams who are willing to work together,” Peterson said.
In 2017, SeaWorld Orlando has rescued 47 manatees and returned 25 following successful rehabilitation. South Carolina residents are encouraged to report manatee sightings to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. You can do so by clicking here.