Free at last – Rita the manatee goes home
It’s no easy task to release back into the wild a rare sea cow weighing 3,000lb after 26 years in captivity, reports Michael McCarthy
Saturday 28 February 2009
Gently does it: this is a little bit like moving an immobile patient from a hospital trolley to a bed, except that, in this case, the patient weighs a ton and a half and has to be shifted by crane.
The patient, Rita, a 12ft, 3,000lb (1,360kg) manatee, or sea cow, is one of the most curious of aquatic animals. She has spent the past 26 years living as a semi-invalid in SeaWorld, the Florida theme park near Orlando, having lost a flipper that had become caught in a crab trap.
However, a recent edict from the US Fish and Wildlife Service has laid down that all manatees in captivity which are capable of living in the wild must be released, which means freedom for about 30 animals held in parks and zoos across the US.
SeaWorld has held 10 manatees – mostly animals recuperating from injuries suffered in collisions with boats – and it has begun the releases. Rita was set free this week, along with a smaller animal, Amber, a 9ft, 1,300lb female rescued in 2001.
Although Rita is minus her flipper, SeaWorld staff determined that would not affect her ability to survive in the wild, not least because manatees are vegetarians, feeding mainly on underwater grasses.
"With manatees, their food doesn't try and get away from them, so they don't have a lot of difficulty getting where they need to be," said Scott Gearhart, a senior SeaWorld vet who helped to supervise the release.
Rita was released into Blue Springs, a state park on the St John's river where a warm-water spring ensures the water temperature stays at a temperature of 23 degrees all year round. In the winter, it is a major attraction for manatees from the main river.
Rita will be tagged and tracked by satellite and closely monitored in her new home. Manatee enthusiasts can follow her daily track online at www.seaworld.org.
Manatees belong to the order of mammals known as sirenians, which contains three species of manatee – found in the Americas and West Africa – and the dugong, which is found in the Eastern hemisphere, from East Africa to the Pacific.
There was also a gigantic relative to the manatee called a Steller's sea cow, which lived off the coast of Alaska but it was hunted to extinction shortly after its discovery in the mid-18th century.
Looking humanlike in certain aspects, sirenians are thought to be the basis of the myth of mermaids.
Justin Bieber was one of the hardest hit
Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
Church of England threatens to cease BP and Shell investments over climate concerns
Animal Extinction - the greatest threat to mankind
Organic farming can feed the world if done right, scientists claim
Prince William attacks China over 'ignorant craving' for ivory
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...
£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...
£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...