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Jacksonville Zoo manatee release postponed because of injury

BriarRose, cared for at zoo’s critical care center since March, set to be released near power plant in Cocoa

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A female manatee being treated at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Manatee Critical Care Center was set to be returned to Florida waters Thursday morning, but an injury postponed the release.

BriarRose, who now weighs 873 pounds, has been at the zoo since March 14. Zoo staff, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute, had the 3-year-old manatee all loaded up for her trip to warmer southern waters in Cocoa before veterinarians found a mild injury to her right eye.

They returned her to the zoo’s manatee rehab tank, where she’ll recover until she can be released later.

When she is released, they’ll be taking her south to Port St. John to warmer water near a power plant.

“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," said Craig Miller, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens Curator of Mammals and leader of the Marine Mammal Response Team. “This would allow her to feel the difference between the warm water outflow and the colder, ambient water in the surrounding waterway.”

BriarRose is in her second stay at the Critical Care Center. She was initially rescued in early 2018 at New Smyrna Beach underweight and beached. As part of the manatee rescue partnership, she was transferred from SeaWorld to the Jacksonville Zoo on Sept. 27, 2018, to continue to receive care and gain weight before her first release in Oak Hill.

After being released on 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.

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The goal with every rescue is to rehabilitate and return the animal as quickly as possible, but young manatees take additional time and resources to ensure they are less susceptible to cold stress in their natural environment, the zoo said.

Manatees make a run for warmer water once the water temperature drops below 68° and sometimes they get stuck in a cold spot and become cold stressed. Rescuers have been busy lately helping manatees in distress around the area.

BriarRose is outfitted with a satellite tag and when she’s released, she will be monitored by CMARI to make sure she is healthy, readjusting well, and utilizing the warm water throughout the winter. She will be the 13th manatee released from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens since the opening of the Critical Care Center in 2017.

Those who see an injured marine mammal should call the FWC hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or dial *FWC on a cellular device.


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