State wildlife officers have rescued a manatee believed to be only two to three weeks old from the basin behind the government and cultural center in Key Largo.
The young calf was observed swimming alone and without its mother for at least a week, said John Cassady, a research associate with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s marine research section.
Cassady, other Fish and Wildlife staff and workers from the Miami Seaquarium used a net to grab the two-foot-long marine mammal on Monday from the shallow dock area of the mile marker 102 government building. FWC biologist Katie Bullard went into the water to retrieve the netted calf.
Once out of the water, Cassady carried the female manatee to a Seaquarium van, where FWC and Seaquarium staff prepped her for her trip to the Virginia Key aquarium. Part of the preparation was filling a baby pool full of water. Although manatees are air-breathing mammals, they breathe more comfortably when in water, Cassady said.
When transporting large adult manatees, biologists often pour water over the animals’ heads to mimic the act of their faces breaching the water, said Seaquarium veterinarian Maya Rodriguez.
It is not clear why the baby manatee was on her own for so long, but there are several theories. Often manatee calves are alone because their mothers died. But Wildlife Officer Scott LaRosa said there have been no reports in recent weeks of dead manatees in local waters.
Like other animals, manatee mothers can be known to abandon their babies, especially if they have twins. In these cases, the smaller and weaker manatee is often left to fend for itself, LaRosa said.
Young manatees typically stay with their mothers for about two to three years, Cassady said. In the Keys, the time mothers and calves spend together can be slightly longer than manatees found in other parts of the state, he said.
The manatee rescued this week will probably spend the next three to four years at the Seaquarium, Cassady said. Ideally, she will then be released back into the wild, wearing a satellite tracking tag.
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