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Juvenile manatees successfully rescued from Sanibel River

By Staff | Dec 8, 2017

One of the two juvenile manatees rescued from the Sanibel River.

Two juvenile manatees were successfully rescued from the Sanibel River Monday, Dec. 4 and released at the Punta Rassa boat ramp after being stranded in the body of water since Hurricane Irma.

“It felt so good,” J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Ranger Monica Scroggin said. “It’s cool to be able to have this awesome job and be able to do great things for the environment and wildlife in Southwest Florida.”

She said they have received calls about once every other week since Hurricane Irma, that two manatees were spotted in various locations along the river. It is believed that the manatees became trapped after the weir’s opened to let water out.

“They were probably going towards fresh water and got stuck,” she said.

With the many phone calls, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge Biologist Jeremy Conrad kayaked the Sanibel River on numerous occasions to see if he could locate the manatees.

Numerous community members, and agencies, gathered to help pull the two manatees to the shore by using large nets.

“They are hard to find because they rest under water, sometimes for 20 minutes. Sometimes when we were kayaking to find them, we couldn’t hear them and probably passed them,” Scroggin said. “They are really fast. How you see them is there is a swell on top of the water when they are moving. It’s kind of like their footprint.”

Scroggin said before they successfully captured them Monday, a team went out with full gear a time before, but were unable to rescue them.

“This time we got them, so that’s awesome because we have the cold front that is coming this weekend,” Scroggin said Friday morning. “They wouldn’t be able to probably survive in the river because they need to go and find warmer water. It was really lucky that we could get them out of there.”

The manatees start to travel to warmer waters when the temperatures dip below 68 degrees.

The rescue brought together many community members, which included J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge staff and the Society, Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

The rescue effort included people in kayaks making noise, gently persuading the manatees to swim towards a group of people who were located on either side of the Sanibel River. Scroggin said they positioned themselves near the end of the river.

“We pulled a net across the river, so once they got on this side, we pulled another net across. With the second net, we pulled it around them and pulled them up to shore. That is where it was so important to have all those people because they can be very heavy,” Scroggin said.

A tarp was then placed under the manatee, so they could very slowly shuffle to the FWC manatee rescue truck.

FWC was able to determine their sex – a juvenile male and female – and gave them a clean bill of health.

“They looked fine because they had vegetation in here, they need fresh water to live as well,” she said. “That’s why they are always going to fresh water sources in the springs in Florida. They were in manatee heaven . . . no boats around, fresh water and plenty of food.”

Scroggin said the manatees were incredibly strong. During the rescue, she said they had to hold them down, due to the pressure calming them.

“This was the first time I did anything like this, so it was really cool,” Scroggin said.

Manatees, she said, have a thin layer of fat. They are made mostly of muscle with whiskers on their snout, which are connected to their nervous system, enabling them to feel when feeding. Manatees have sharp back molars and front worn down molars.

“They loose the ones in the front and keep marching from the back their whole life,” she said. “They are like this (worn down teeth) because of all the sand and grit they grind down with the grass.”

One of the displays at the Visitor & Education Center at “Ding” Darling showcases a manatee’s rib bone before and after being struck by a boat motor. Scroggin said the bone calcifies, resulting in a normal rib bone increasing from 2 pounds to 8 pounds.

“Usually it doesn’t hit just one rib, it hits multiple,” she explained.

Scroggin encourages individuals to keep an eye out for wildlife that they do not expect to see in certain places.