USGS Scientists Learn Lessons From Captive Released Manatees

As he drifted in the Caribbean waters 20 miles west of the Dry Tortugas, time seemed to be running out for "Mo." Nearly 300 miles from where he started his wayward journey and having lost 180 pounds, Mo was suffering from dehydration and malnutrition.

If not for his radio-tracking device, Mo, a captive-reared West Indian manatee, would probably not have survived. U.S. Geological Survey biologist Jim Reid, who led Mo's rescue effort with a field crew from SeaWorld Orlando, said, "Mo is one lucky manatee. He was drifting away from land and it was pure luck that the Sea World field crew was available for his rescue."

Mo was first rescued in 1994 as an orphaned month-old calf from the Withlacoochee River on the northwest coast of Florida and reared in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando. He was radio-tagged by USGS Florida Caribbean Science Center biologists and released from captivity April 22, 1998, into Crystal River, Fla., near where he was found as a newborn calf in 1994. Mo's release was part of a cooperative study by USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Captive Manatee Interagency/Oceanaria Working Group on how manatees fare in the wild after having been held for a long time in captivity.

Locations from his satellite-monitored transmitter showed that Mo remained in the area of his release near the Salt River, a popular manatee area, for two weeks. Then, for the next three weeks, no other satellite-relayed locations were received. Finally, in late May, his transmitter indicated that Mo was about 120 miles off the southwest coast of Florida, well outside normal manatee habitat. By June 3, he was closer to the Dry Tortugas, but still far from feeding areas with access to fresh water and other manatees. Fresh water is a necessity for manatees.

When Reid traveled to the Dry Tortugas, he was met June 4 by SeaWorld's aquarium and animal care staff, which happened to be there studying nurse sharks. With help from National

Contact: Hannah Hamilton
(352) 378-8181
United States Geological Survey

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