A young manatee dubbed Rebellion by his rescuers lived up to his name when he tried to sneak back to the Key Largo boat ramp on which he was released Thursday after six months at the Miami Seaquarium, where he was recovering from injuries inflicted by a boat strike in April.
Seaquarium, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Dolphin Research Center staff carefully released the sea mammal into a mangrove-lined canal behind the Calusa Campground in Key Largo. Using a blue tarp, Rebellion was gently lifted and lowered into the water until he swam off into the murky Florida Bay.
Within seconds several circles of mud rose to the surface of the water — the telltale sign other manatees are present. It was looking like Rebellion made new friends. But like a preschooler leaving his parents on the first day of class, he quickly reappeared on the boat ramp, as if saying, “That was fun. Now take me back to the aquarium.”
But he soon realized he was home. Back where he belongs.
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His release into Florida Bay marked the first manatee release in Key Largo post Hurricane Irma, the Seaquarium said.
Julie Hyde, senior keeper at the Seaquarium, was one of the scientists rehabilitating Rebellion, who suffered several broken ribs after being struck by the boat. She said she and her colleagues become attached to their patients, but the happiness that comes from seeing the mammals become healthy enough to return to the sea outweighs any of those feelings.
“It’s always exciting because it’s the goal of the job, to get them healthy and out in the wild,” Hyde said from the Calusa dock. “It’s a good feeling.”
Rebellion, like other manatees rehabbed at the Seaquarium, like Key 3PO, was given a “Star Wars”-themed name.
“It’s just kind of a silly decision,” Hyde said. “It’s fun.”
Rebellion was found in April at the same spot on Florida Bay where he was released Wednesday. He was in bad shape.
“He was floating completely sideways,” said Amber Howell, research associate with the FWC. “We pulled up just down the canal.”
Howell said Rebellion is a 440-pound “sub-adult,” estimated to be about 2 or 3 years old, and he was not with his mother when rescued last spring. .
“He’s just old enough to be on his own, but probably just weened,” Howell said. “Probably that winter.”
Mothers stay with their calves until they’re around 2. They may still stay together after that, but mom’s work at that point is typically done.
“We’ve seen them together, but they won’t be dependent on each other,” said Howell.
Howell stresses that if people see an injured or dead manatee in the wild, they should call the FWC at (888) 404-3922.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204