Rescued manatee returns to NE Fla. waters

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Florida's marine mammal, the manatee, has been on the endangered species list since 1967, but that could change thanks to work of marine rescuers and precautious boaters.

They may now belong in the less protective "threatened" category.

There are many manatees injured or killed because of pollution or irresponsible watercraft users. But one manatee that did not fall victim and was rescued joined northeast Florida waters Tuesday after going through rehab in Orlando.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservative Commission rescued Skellington on April 23. They said the manatee was lethargic and had a wound on its back.

"When we saw this animal on the mud bank, we knew he was not looking right, that there was something going on with the animal," said Nadia Gordon, of FWC. "We didn't know exactly what, and that's where SeaWorld came into play."

Because of his injuries, Skellington was transported to SeaWorld Orlando for testing and rehabilitation.

He weighed 735 pounds and was over 8 feet long. Skellington now weighs 860 pounds and was medically cleared for Tuesday's return to the wild.

"He was severely emaciated, looks nothing like he did on arrival, and now he looks like a healthy normal manatee," said Stacy DiRocco, SeaWorld animal rescue team member. "So it's extremely rewarding to see that kind of turnaround."

Following months of rehabilitation, Skellington is back in the Intracoastal Waterway near where wildlife officials found him.

SeaWorld Orlando rescued its first manatee in 1976, and since then it's been a goal to successfully rehabilitate manatees and other animals. The small percentage of animals whose injuries are too severe and cannot be released are given lifelong care.

SeaWorld says people have made improvements when it comes to protecting manatees, but there is still more to be done.

"Be vigilant about looking out for manatees," DiRocco said. "It's certainly one of the biggest things that we see are watercraft injuries. Another one is simple trash in the ocean or waterway here. They just pose so many threats for a variety of animals."

If you see an injured manatee or one that looks in danger, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

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