Ace, a young male cold-stress manatee that was found stranded in the Peace River and has been in rehabilitation at the South Florida Museum’s Parker Manatee Aquarium since March 2014, was successfully returned to the wild on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, to cheers of onlookers standing along the banks of the Orange River at Manatee Park.
Ace, nicknamed because he was found in the Peace River, was initially treated at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo beginning in January 2014. After his initial stay in their hospital, Ace was transferred to The South Florida Museum’s Parker Aquarium, a Stage 2 manatee rehabilitation facility where manatees live while they gain weight and return to full health. When Ace arrived at the Museum, he weighed in at about 740 pounds. At his Thursday-morning weigh-in, Ace was a whopping 920 pounds — a healthy weight for release.
“Ace was really easy to work with during his rehab — showing the typical temperament of a manatee his age, which indicates that he should do well back in the wild,” said Dr. David Murphy, veterinarian for the South Florida Museum. “We’re excited about his release and the possibilities that he will help increase the overall manatee population.”
Ace was released in the Orange River across from Manatee Park in Lee County, a warm-water manatee refuge where the endangered mammals gather when Gulf water temperatures drop below 68 F. Because Ace was stranded due to cold-stress, it was important to release him in a warm-water refuge area to give him the opportunity to know where to navigate seasonally when water temperatures drop.
Also released on Thursday were two female manatees that were successfully rehabilitated at the Lowry Park Zoo. VenIce (named because she was a cold-stress manatee that stranded in Venice) and Burnie, a one-flippered manatee that was found near Burnt Store Road.
“Releasing the three animals together should help boost Ace’s chances for success in the wild,” said Marilyn Margold, Director of the South Florida Museum’s Living Collection and Co-Chair of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership. The Partnership is a self-governing group in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is made up of organizations that participate in manatee rescue and rehabilitation, including the South Florida Museum, Sea to Shore Alliance and Lowry Park Zoo.
“Releasing Ace with companion animals into a refuge area where other manatees gather will help him get re-acclimated to the wild and improve his chances for success,” Margold said.
As a Stage 2 rehab facility, the South Florida Museum’s Parker Manatee Aquarium plays an important role in returning manatees to the wild. “We get to fatten the manatees up and make sure they’re healthy and ready to go home to the wild. It’s really an honor not only to be involved in this type of important conservation work for an endangered species, but to also help guide the wider statewide efforts as part of a larger consortium,” Margold said.