Dozens of volunteers and wildlife experts worked together on a rescue mission Thursday morning to relocate a group of seven manatees that were washed up into a golf course pond after Hurricane Hermine.
A seven-foot storm surge allowed the manatees to swim into the Plantation on Crystal River pond where they were then stranded after the water level returned to normal.
Staff members from Plantation on Crystal River reported the manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) on Sept. 2. The FWC had been monitoring the manatees for the past two weeks to ensure they were in good health and to make sure they could stay in the pond until Thursday’s response effort.
The large mammals were not in immediate danger, however a pond is not their ideal habitat due to their endangerment, said Kelly Richmond, communications director for FWC.
Since they are an endangered species, it is important that the manatees can go back into the wild so they can keep breeding and contributing to the population, Richmond said.
“They have plenty of food here, so they are not likely to leave without us helping them,” Richmond said.
The first manatee caught was a lactating female about 11 feet long and around 1,800 pounds, said Manatee Rescue Coordinator Andy Garrett.
Her calf was caught shortly after and they were released together into a canal off Kings Bay River after veterinarians examined them.
The second set of manatees caught were a possible mother and calf pair. However, the mother broke out of the net and escaped, said Martine deWit, an FWC veterinarian.
In total, all seven manatees were caught and released.
Wildlife experts and volunteers put the calf back in the water to try to lure the mother to come back. When that did not work, volunteers got on kayaks in the pond and made loud noises in the water to get the third manatee into the net.
Manatees don’t travel in social groups; it is more common to see mother-calf pairs, Garrett said.
Once they were caught, the manatees were taken into a processing tent where veterinarians took blood, urine and fecal samples.
All of the animals caught were in great health, said University of Florida Veterinarian Mike Walsh.
“I think it’s really important that the attitude that’s been taken by the Plantation Inn to be so helpful and be willing to let us damage their property is the same attitude that we hope from everybody in Florida and how we view our wildlife and the importance of their future in the environment,” Walsh said.