Rescued manatee returned to Florida waters after year of rehabilitation at ZooTampa

Hillsborough County

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A manatee rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and rehabilitated at ZooTampa has now returned to his native waters.

This news comes after a record number of Florida manatees died due to starvation last year.

When FWC rescued Chandler the manatee in January 2021, he suffered from cold stress and only weighed 490 pounds.

“They face a lot of troubles out there, but when there’s not enough food that’s a big concern,” said Molly Lippincott, ZooTampa’s curator of Florida and manatees.

One year later, Chandler weighed 720 pounds as he was released Wednesday morning at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach.

The sea cow spent the last 12 months at ZooTampa’s David A. Straz Manatee Critical Care Center. It is one of only four facilities in the country that specializes in rehabilitating sick, injured and orphaned manatees.

“We do what we can here at the zoo,” Lippincott said. “We try to make every life matter, but it’s devastating to hear so many have passed away.”

Lippincott said red tide on the west coast and dying seagrass on the east coast contributed to 1,101 manatee deaths in Florida last year, nearly twice as many as in 2020.

“The population has increased over the last 10-15 years and that’s wonderful, but to have such a large portion die off, it’s really concerning,” she said. “I think if anything, it’s been brought to everyone’s attention that we need to be looking out for a waterways. I’m really thinking about what we’re doing to the environment.”

As for Chandler, he is still considered an inexperienced juvenile. The hope is he can learn from other manatees that gather at the viewing center how to migrate from this warm water sanctuary to other areas as temperatures rise.

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