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5 rehabilitated manatees released from Jacksonville Zoo

This photo shows two of the five rehabilitated manatees that were released last week from Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. (Joel Bell)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Five rehabilitated manatees were released last week from Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens -- the largest releases of manatees from the zoo in its history.

Two females, Amelia and Irma, were released Monday at Blue Spring State Park. They were rescued in 2017 as orphaned calves and were first taken to SeaWorld Orlando. Orphaned manatees need to be large enough before they can return to the wild, so Amelia and Irma went to the Jacksonville Zoo in February 2020 to continue their development.

Three males were also released Tuesday at Blue Spring after they were taken to the Jacksonville Zoo this winter to be treated for symptoms of cold stress, which starts to occur when manatees spend too much time in water below 68 degrees.

Manatees migrate to warm water sources in the winter but sometimes become entrapped in areas with cold water and may not make it to the warmer water. Two of the males were entrapped and rescued in Merritt Island on Dec. 29 and Jan. 11. The third was rescued in the Ortega River on Jan. 18.

“Releasing these animals not only marks the successful rehabilitation of five more manatees, it also frees up critical space so additional manatees can be treated at our Zoo,” said Craig Miller, curator of mammals at the Jacksonville Zoo. “It truly takes a team to protect this threatened species and I could not be prouder of the dedication of all those involved with this program.”

The zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center provides life-saving medical treatment to rescued manatees. The manatee rescue and rehabilitation program has cared for 27 manatees and released 21 since the center opened in 2017.

To report an injured marine mammal, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC).