BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) – Two manatees are calling The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s newly renovated habitat home, for what is hopefully a short time.
The renovated habitat is based on a cypress spring in Florida, something more natural for young manatees recovering from injury.
“It is the same pool, but we’ve change the design of it to make it more natural and hopefully a space that manatees will recognize. These are wild manatees, so we want them to come in somewhere and make it feel like home,” explained Virginia Edmonds, director of animal care at the Bishop Museum.
Edmonds said it’s more common to see manatees in a spring during the cold months of winter, so the idea to build a “spring” made sense for both the manatees and those visiting them.
The renovations include a manmade cypress tree stump in the middle for manatees to navigate around, just like they would in the wild.
The renovated habitat also features some texture, sand-like, for manatees to explore. Manatees are used to being in sand, using it to scratch algae or barnacles off their backs. Edmonds explained texture is also stimulating and “makes them think about things.”
Rescued manatee “Janus” was rescued in January From Philippi Creek in Sarasota after being unable to leave the canal. Janus was suffering from cold stress when she was rescued. The museum said when she was rescued, she weighed only 295 pounds, but is now up to 420 pounds.
The second manatee, Iclyn, is also a female, also rescued in Jan. from Whitaker Bayou in Sarasota, suffering from cold stress. When she was rescued, Iclyn weighed 360 pounds. The mammal now weighs in at 525 pounds.
The manatees have been residents in the habitat for around a week now, coming from ZooTampa’s critical care hospital.
The Bishop’s habitat is a stage two rehabilitation facility, meaning manatees get more time to recuperate after being critically in a manatee hospital. Janus and Icyln are staying at the Bishop to gain “a little weight” and crews are hopeful to try and teach them behaviors, and to maintain them, before they’re released back into the wild to transition seamlessly.
The habitat will open to the public on June 16 after a few months of construction.
Edmonds said it’s so far, so good for these mammals.
“They’re using it how we hoped they would. You never really know, they can’t tell you what their needs are, you can just watch behavior and try and figure things out,” she said. “I think we came pretty close and the animals are using it just as we hoped they would.”
The museum has cared for 44 rehabilitating manatees, including the two new arrivals.
The opening of the habitat takes place just days after Tampa Bay Congressman issued a letter urging the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to upgrade the manatee species status from “threatened” to “endangered.”
Preliminary rates from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicate that a total of 782 manatees have died so far in 2021, compared to a total of 637 deaths in all of 2020. The five-year average of manatee deaths is 306, according to FWC.
To report a distressed or dead manatee, Floridians and visitors can go online to the FWC website or call 888-404-FWCC. Cell phone users can also call #FWC or *FWC.