Hundreds of people crowded the South Seas Yacht Harbour to witness the release of Cap the manatee.
Cap, who weighed between 800-900 pounds, was the last of 14 manatees released in local waters through a multiagency effort by the Lee County Sheriff's Office and Florida Fish and Wildlife. He was driven from Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo to Captiva on July 17 in the back of a truck and carried into the water by a group of volunteers.
Once in the water, Cap swam away to safety as onlookers took pictures, cheered, and clapped.
Denise Boyd, a research associate with FWC, said Cap was suffering from the effects of red tide toxin earlier this year, which causes paralysis and seizures in affected manatees.
"It was a brutal year," she said. "The red tide mortality and manatee rescues were record breaking."
She explained that Cap was sent to Tampa to undergo supportive care until the toxins cleared his system. He was brought back to the island last week to avoid being reintroduced to an unfamiliar environment.
Jim Mathisen, a federal wildlife officer at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, received the call earlier this year from a family who found Cap in distress. He said that it appeared the rest of the pod was pushing him ashore and Boyd explained that Cap was part of a mating herd before officials found him.
Mathisen's partner, Federal Officer David Moore, got in the water with Cap and held his head up for an hour before FWC arrived.
Boyd said they didn't know Cap's exact age. The only way to measure a manatee's age is to measure its ear bone, which can only be examined when the animal is dead. He could be anywhere between 7-50 years in age.
Wildlife officials were optimistic about Cap's chances in the local estuaries.
"It's a really great feeling that we get to see the positive effects," said Boyd.
Daniel Smock, director of Marketing and Communications for South Seas, said more people came for this release than did in 2011, when the Miami Seaquarium released a different manatee.
Rob Mintzer and his daughter Madison came to watch Cap's release but found it difficult to see all of the action because of the large crowd.
"I was glad to be a part of it," he said. "We couldn't get good views of it. We saw its black head and it was wrapped up and brought down."
Mintzer said he was satisfied that Cap was released safely.
"It was good that he is free, but I would've liked to see him," said Madison Mintzer.