The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources teamed up with the Sea World Rescue Team, Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and several other rescue groups to help a manatee who was struggling in the cold water of the Cooper River near Charleston.
The male manatee was rescued in the Cooper River upstream from Charleston Harbor last week and taken to the Jacksonville Zoo for treatment for cold stress.
This is the fourth straight year rescue teams have responded to help manatees in the Cooper River. According to Sea World, all of those animals were successfully relocated to Florida, some after brief stays in manatee critical care facilities.
“It’s the most dangerous type of captures we do,” said Andy Garrett with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. “It’s dark water. It’s industrial site. There’s currents. The animals are already stressed because of the cold so it’s important to have these kind of partnerships with experienced people.”
“This is why the partnerships are so important,” Sea World Rescue Manager Jon Peterson said. “Sea World can’t ever do this on their own. Without having all these partners, this type of rescue operation would be almost impossible for one team to play.”
As fall arrives, some manatees that are attracted to the abundant feeding grounds in the upper Cooper River seem reluctant to leave the area even as water temperatures fall. Instead, they find warm water sources and delay their migration south.
The public is encouraged to report any additional manatee sightings to the SCDNR. Sea World also emphasizes the manatees should never be fed or watered. This not only teaches the animals to approach docks and boats, putting them at greater risk of boat strikes but also is illegal. If more manatees are confirmed through sighting reports, additional rescue efforts will be coordinated.
To report an injured manatee, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 1-843-727-4707 ext.205.
“A lot of the times we’re on the front line,” Garret said. “We have field stations around Florida that identify and respond to reports of citizens that find distressed manatees and then partnering with Sea World to rescue them, so it’s a natural partnership to come up here, bring our expertise up, we’ve got crews if we do catch animals up here that will be helping with the transports and releases on the back end.”
The following agencies assisted with the rescue: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff from Jacksonville, Charleston, Ernest F. Hollings – ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), and Cape Romain NWR, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Sea to Shore Alliance, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Clearwater (FL) Marine Aquarium, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the University of Florida Aquatic Animal Health Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – National Ocean Services – Charleston, and the National Marine Mammal Foundation. WestRock Company (Charleston) provided logistic support for the rescue.
In 2018 SeaWorld has rescued 69 manatees and returned 23, many after successful rehabilitation.