After about eight months recovering from a boat strike that nearly severed its tail paddle, a manatee nicknamed “Key3PO” was returned to waters in the Florida Keys.
The mature 900-pound male manatee was rescued last August by Dolphin Research Center’s Manatee Rescue Team and personnel from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The slow-moving aquatic mammal had suffered crushed vertebrae and deep gash wounds to its tail paddle, which is the animal’s primary means of propulsion. It was transported to the Miami Seaquarium, a manatee rehabilitation partner, for several surgeries and additional specialized treatment as well as a period of rehabilitation.
Successful rehabilitation means the animal is functional and can survive on its own, demonstrating it can dive, stay submerged and forage for food, mostly water plants.
“What we’re talking about here is a group of people that have come together to save one animal,” said Mandy Rodriguez, Dolphin Research Center’s chief operating officer. “Now this animal belongs to a species that is threatened today, so we need to save every single one. If we have to do it one at a time, we will.”
Florida manatees were recently reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species.
The nonprofit DRC is the Florida Keys’ federal and state authorized manatee rescue team. Specially trained assessors, rescuers and veterinary personnel respond to sick, injured or orphaned manatees.