Manatees Swim Free The Columbus Story
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium currently has three Manatees: Hurricane (1320 lbs.), Dundee (1345 lbs.), and Gene (1835 lbs.). We have had others. Comet was released back to the wild on February 12, 2000. Brooks and Trident were released on February 5, 2002.
My “Love Affair” with Brooks really started after the release of Comet. I was fortunate enough to get a special Behind the Scenes Tour of the Sea World Manatee facility in Orlando and was introduced to Brooks when he was quite young. Brooks then became one of the Manatees that came to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to make room for more rehabilitating manatees in the Florida Rescue facilities. Brooks came to Sea World in Florida in 1999 after he was rescued as an orphan at Port Canaveral. He was hand reared at Sea World.
Trident also came to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to gain weight and prepare him for his release to the wild. Trident was a small, sub-adult male found by himself in Vero Beach during the winter of 2000. When he was first found he appeared lifeless. Trident is always easy to identify by the shape of his tail. His name comes from his trident shaped fluke or tail that was damaged by the severe cold stress.
Both Brooks and Trident spent the better part of a year in Columbus before they were taken back to Florida. They were released into an East Coast Study Group Brooks is the first and was freeze branded with an “E 1.” Since Trident was so easy to identify, he was not freeze branded. Both animals (along with Myriah from Disney’s Living Seas) were released back to the wild on February 5, 2002 at the Cutler Ridge Power Plant just South of Miami, Florida, in Biscayne Bay.
Since I had been lucky enough to attend the Release of Comet at Blue Springs State Park in 2000, I really wanted to attend this release also. I kept asking when and where? No one could tell me definitely when and where the release sight would be. I called a representative from the U.S. Fish & Game who informed me that since the release was to be at a Power Plant it was unlikely that I could be there. After she called the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, she called and asked me if anyone would be attending with me?
On the evening of February 5, 2002 I wrote the following for an article for the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Docents: Most of you know that I am not an “Early” Person — so when I tell you that I was up before Sunrise today — that is saying something. At 6:30 my husband and I arrived at the Cutler Ridge Power Plant southeast of Miami, Florida. Somehow we were the first to get to the actual release sight (Do you think maybe I was excited to get there?)
3 Manatees were released today. One from Disney’s Living Seas (Myriah) and 2 from Sea World by way of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (Brooks and Trident.) Myriah was in a LARGE crate in a Budget Rental Truck. Brooks and Trident were in slings in the back of the Sea World Animal Rescue Track. They had a large crane to lift the animals from the trucks to the top of the boat ramp.
About 30 people were there People from: Florida Power & Light, Florida Fish & Wildlife, Disney’s Living Seas, Sea World, and A Docent and her husband from Columbus. There was a quick meeting held to make sure that all safety rules were followed (remember — we were on Florida Power & Light land!)
The leader of the Living Seas Group took over and had Myriah brought out of the Budget Rental Truck. At the top of the ramp, the Florida Fish & Wildlife people attached a yellow transmitter to the skinny part near her tail. The crate went into the water but Myriah was in no hurry to go swimming. They had to encourage her to go swimming. Then it was Sea World’s turn to get Brooks and Trident into the water.
The crane brought the sling over to the top of the ramp. Brooks got a green transmitter and Trident got a red transmitter. Debbie Schoenauer, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium Manatee Keeper, helped the Sea World people carry Brooks and Trident into the water.
Brooks swam free at 8:32 AM on February 5, 2002. Trident swam free at 8:46 AM on the same day.
Each manatee was fitted with a Transmitter so that they could be tracked by GPS (Global Positioning System). A Rehabilitated Florida Manatee Monitoring Consortium was established with the Columbus Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo, Disney Conservation Fund, EPCOT-Living Seas, Florida Marine Research Institute, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Lowry Park Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, Sea World Florida, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS’s Sirenia Project, and Wildlife Trust to track these Manatees. Why track them? Many years ago they released a Manatee and it was tracked. They were surprised at how quickly it was moving up the East Coast of Florida. They soon realized that he was in the Gulf Stream and if it was not rescued it might end up in England. Hence they have found that it has been beneficial to
“track” or keep an eye on newly released Manatees.
Somehow I was placed on the Consortium’s list to get daily information on the whereabouts of the Manatees. Each day I had a huge “download” on the computer with detailed maps of where all of the Manatees were. There were groups of Manatees in the Tampa Bay area, the East Coast Group near Miami, and a group in Charlotte Harbor, Florida. Each day I also received a database giving me the latitude, longitude, water temperature, and other data.
Brooks went over 12 miles up the Snapper Creek Canals and ended up in the canals where not much food was available. Brooks lost his transmitter once but both were located and they were re-united. It was finally decided on March 21, 2002 that Brooks would be re-captured and relocated back where he started near the Biscayne Bay. Brooks began to wander but the GPS always kept an eye on him. On May 13, 2002 a recapture team was sent out to re-evaluate Brooks’ condition. His weight had dropped to 655 pounds (from 805 pounds at his release date of February 5, 2002) and he showed other signs of dehydration. Brooks was removed from Deering Bay and transported back to Sea World in Orlando, Florida.
Trident seemed to stay in the general area of his release going up the Black River. Because of his tail configuration, not having a full paddle to hold the transmitter, Trident lost his transmitter on April 26, 2002. So far, he has not been re-located to attach it again. When he is spotted again, a new transmitter will be attached so that Trident can be tracked again.
Comet is not being “tracked” but has returned to the Blue Springs State Park this past winter. Comet seems to have totally adjusted to “living” in the wilds of Florida.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium still has 3 Manatees in their Manatee Exhibit Hurricane, Dundee, and Gene. We still fondly think of the ones that we have released Comet, Brooks, & Trident. Brooks remains at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, but Comet and Trident are once again swimming Free.
Lecture by Dr. Greg Bossart, Veterinary Consult at the Miami Seaquarium and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, March 5, 2002
Alex Smith, Manatee / Atlantic Right Whale GIS Research, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, St. Petersburg, FL
Monica Ross, Program Officer, Wildlife Trust, C/O Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida Consortium on Manatee Tracking: Cincinnati Zoo, Columbus Zoo, Disney Conservation Fund, EPCOT-Living Seas, FWC’s Florida Marine Research Institute, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Lowry Park Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, Sea World Florida, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USGS’s Sirenia Project, and Wildlife Trust
Columbus Zoo Staff and Columbus Zoo Website: http://www.colszoo.org