JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A female manatee that had been at Jacksonville Zoo’s Critical Care Center since mid-March was returned to Florida waters Wednesday morning.
BriarRose was released at Port St. John in Cocoa, according to a news release from Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.
It wasn’t just zoo officials who made the release possible. People from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute assisted.
BriarRose is about 3 years old and weighed 873 pounds at the time of her return, officials said.
Wildlife experts said the goal is always rehabilitating and returning an animal as quickly as possible, but young manatees are known to take extra time and resources.
“It’s always a good day when we can return a manatee back to the wild,” said Craig Miller, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens’ curator of mammals and leader of the Marine Mammal Response Team. “The successful release of BriarRose wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of many partners in the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, including FWC, CMARI and SeaWorld. This also means we now have more resources and space to care for additional rescued manatees during this busy winter.”
This was BriarRose’s second stay at the Critical Care Center.
She was initially rescued in early 2018 at New Smyrna Beach, after she was found underweight and beached.
BriarRose was transferred from SeaWorld to the zoo on Sept. 27, 2018 to continue to receive care and gain weight before her first release in Oak Hill.
After she was released Nov. 14, 2018, she quickly found a feeding area and other manatees, but when a cold front caused all of the animals except BriarRose to travel to warmer water, she was re-rescued proactively on Dec. 10, 2018 before she became cold-stressed, officials said.
“The plan since BriarRose’s re-rescue was to make sure she was healthy and then wait until the following late fall or early winter, after the first few significant cold fronts, to release her directly into the warm water at the power plant discharge,” Miller said. “This would allow her to feel the difference between the warm water outflow and the colder, ambient water in the surrounding waterway.”
BriarRose is now outfitted with a satellite tag and will be monitored to make sure she is healthy, readjusting well, and using the warm water throughout the winter, officials said.
She was the 13th manatee released from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens since the opening of the Critical Care Center in 2017.