Nearly two dozen manatees are back to enjoying the freedom of the sea thanks to a large-scale multi-agency coordinated rescue effort to help them escape from a Florida drainage pipe.
Numerous Florida agencies, SeaWorld staff and Patrick Air Force Base personnel joined forces on Monday afternoon in cutting apart a pipe to help save 19 manatees that became trapped after traveling up into a 150-foot storm drain pipe. The rescued marine animals were released into a nearby pond and eventually into the Indian River Lagoon after the nearly 12-hour effort.
Apparently, all it took was for one manatee in the group to head into the pipe and the others followed, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). A manatee, however, cannot swim backward, so once one went in and the rest followed, there was literally no turning back.
"These animals have gone several football fields up into the storm drain and they continued to go up until they got stuck," said Ann Spellman, a FWC marine biologist. In addition to the 19 rescued, 11 other manatees managed to find their way out on their own, said wildlife officials.
The manatees were likely seeking warmer waters, officials believed. The big concern about the pipe was potential drowning given no rain was expected.
The marine creatures are known to travel close to shore and move into beachside canals when weather conditions turn cool. Despite some minor cuts and scrapes, the manatees appeared to be unscathed by the incident.
The coordinated rescue effort, initiated by Spellman who said she had a hunch something may be happening with manatees due to the weather, took place in Satellite Beach, on the Atlantic coast, about 15 miles south of Cape Canaveral. The rescue effort, which involved carting the manatees in slings, began Monday afternoon and involved using a large backhoe and other earth-moving machines.
The manatees, which are listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were tagged before being released, so they can be monitored in the future.
Manatees can measure up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 1,300 pounds, which is the prime reason they go by the nickname "sea cow."