Wearing a new GPS tracker around her tail, a manatee rescued from a cold Lowcountry river in late November was released back into the wild on Wednesday.
The female manatee was among 10 — eight males and two females — who had gotten lost near Charleston on the upper Cooper River. Rescuers from SeaWorld and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were able to relocate nine of the mantees to warmer waters off Florida over Nov. 28-30.
One female, who was named Carolina, was moved to a critical care facility at the Jacksonville Zoo because of “significant symptoms of being cold-stressed,” according to the zoo’s Facebook page.
After six weeks, Carolina was deemed healthy enough to be released back into the wild. Video from The Jacksonville Zoo shows her being carefully lowered into the Indian River from the Port St. John Boat Ramp in Brevard County, Fla.
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Carolina and five of the manatees relocated earlier were tagged by researchers with the Sea to Shore Alliance so their movements can be monitored.
The equipment used to track manatees is different than that used to track sharks or other marine species. Manatees are fitted with a padded belt around their tail with a flexible tether and a float housing the tracking device trailing behind them. Researchers say the device can break away if it becomes tangled in vegetation and does not hurt the manatee or hinder its movement.
S.C. Department of Department of Natural Resources estimates that there are only 6,000 sea cows in U.S. waters.
Manatee populations have been on the rise recently, which is great news for the species that was endangered for almost 45 years. In 2017, the Florida manatee was moved off the “endangered” list under the Endangered Species Act and is now classified as “threatened.”
Even though the manatee population is growing, the mammals remain protected under federal and state law, which means it’s illegal to feed, water, play with or touch a manatee in South Carolina, according to SCDNR’s website. It could result in fines of more than $11,000 and jail time up to a year.
A young manatee was found dead on a Hilton Head Island beach on Jan. 4, the same day Beaufort County experienced a rare 4-inch snowfall. Manatees need at least 70 degree water to survive.