DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is preparing for winter, a time when their Marine Mammal Response Team intakes more manatees to rehab. Lusia is a great example of what they do.
Lusia was rescued in August and then rehabbed at the Jacksonville Zoo.
November is a great month to see manatees in the wild. Experts say when the weather cools down, manatees swim towards warm water like Florida springs, rivers, and even water near power plants. One rescuer says you can find them huddled in the hundreds.
I went to Daytona beach for one specific manatee: Lusia.
“This was the exact boat ramp she was taken out of the water from so at least she’s right back to where she started and at this point start making her way to warmer waters,” said Debbie Wright. She is the manager of the Volusia County Manatee protection program.
She rescued Lusia in August. Lusia had a wound across her back, fractured ribs, and a partially collapsed lung when they first got her.
“That is actually quite common. That’s why we have manatee speed zones throughout the county,” Wright said. Boats should slow down in manatee zones. If you are in a boat using oars, Wright says make sure you take your oar out of the water when you see a manatee is close by. Your oar could strike them and hurt them.
The manatee population is growing, but they are still only in the thousands. Florida population, according to FWC, shows somewhere near 6,500. Jacksonville Zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team plays a role in conservation.
They helped Lusia get back in the wild just three months after her injuries. Lusia received treatment and rehab at the Jacksonville Zoo. It’s a big moment to release an animal as vulnerable as a manatee back into the wild.
“It’s a challenging environment out there with the boats and the cold weather coming relatively soon,” said Craig Miller, leader of the Jacksonville Zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team. ”It’s a little worrying and I have to remind myself sometimes that’s where they belong.”
If you get a chance to see a manatee in the wild, make sure you admire from afar. Don’t harass them. It’s illegal. They’re a threatened species so we’ve got to do everything we can to keep them around.
Expert advice: Miller says the best place to see manatees in Florida is at Crystal River.