TAMPA — Three manatees that have spent time rehabilitating at the Lowry Park Zoo have gained a combined 1,400 pounds since their rescues and were released fat and happy in the warm waters of the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach on a chilly Thursday morning.
“It was wonderful,” said zookeeper Jennifer Galbraith. “Fantastic.”
Two of the manatees were rescued in January of last year and one in January 2012. They were orphaned and arrived suffering from cold stress.
Two were cared for in the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital at the zoo, where they were cleared this week for release back into the wild. The third went to the zoo initially, but then was taken to another location. All three were released in the warm water outflow canal of the TECO Big Bend power plant complex, where well over 100 wild manatees had gathered over the recent cold snap, Galbraith said.
“One hundred easy,” she said. It looked like a bunch of rocks.”
Lokey is a young adult male manatee rescued from Longboat Key on Jan. 2, 2013. Zoo officials said he weighed 248 pounds then and now weighs about 725 pounds. He was the first manatee rescued in 2013 and the 300th to receive care at the zoo’s manatee hospital, which now is caring for eight manatees.
Joleen is a young adult female pulled from Joe’s Creek in Pinellas Park on Jan. 28. She weighed 220 pounds at the time of her rescue and now weighs just over 700 pounds.
Longo is an adult male rescued from Longboat Key on Jan. 19. He weighed 271 pounds then and now tips the scales at 715 pounds. Longo was relocated to the South Florida Museum in Bradenton a month after his rescue last year to be a companion for another manatee until he was ready for release. He was brought to the release site by manatee care specialists from South Florida Museum.
The three manatees were released in the warm water canal because of all the other manatees in the water, Galbraith said, though ideally rescued manatees should be released in the area from which they were rescued.
“All three were rescued as juveniles and had not spent a full year in the wild,” Galbraith said, “so they were not imprinted to any particular place.
“We took them to the warm water site because of all the other manatees congregated there,” she said. “They learn from them how to find food.”
Lokey, Joleen and Longo were outfitted with tracking equipment to monitor their re-emergence into the wild. They will be tracked for about a year.