Following a successful transport from Texas to Florida, the manatee arrived at SeaWorld Orlando for a 48-hour observation period to ensure its health had not been impacted by the travel. Once the manatee was cleared by SeaWorld veterinarians, the manatee was transported to Kings Bay in Crystal River where it was returned to the warm waters (see photos below).
To make this move possible, DHL Express transported the manatee in a custom, state-of-the-art container built specifically to hold manatees and according to the requirements of the International Animal Transport Association (IATA) – the regulatory group overseeing all animal transport over land, air or sea. Working with the IATA, SeaWorld helped establish the first transport unit standards for the safe transport of cetaceans and manatees, which includes the use of open-top units designed to allow the animals to move around and adjust for comfort as needed while remaining safe within their container.
Members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) – SeaWorld Orlando, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) and Dauphin Island Sea Lab – worked together to return the manatee to Kings Bay in Crystal River. As the manatee population continues to decline as a result of an ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) on the Atlantic Coast, the collaboration of dedicated partners across the nation is necessary to protect and preserve this critical species. In this case, SeaWorld San Antonio stepped up to provide care for this manatee throughout his rehabilitation, thus preserving an extra rehabilitation space for a manatee in Florida.
The manatee was rescued in December 2021 by the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, SeaWorld San Antonio, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas State Aquarium, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Galveston Bay Foundation and Texas authorities and transported to SeaWorld San Antonio for rehabilitation.
Steve Aibel, Vice President of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld San Antonio said they’re always ready to help manatees in need when necessary. As manatees continue to face threats amidst an unusual mortality event, it’s important that animal care experts across the nation step in to help ensure the preservation of the precious species.
Earlier this year, the manatee was found suffering from cold stress, flipper damage, severe weight loss and other ailments in Texas waters. While manatees are typically known to reside in Florida, seasonal migrations to other southern states have increased in recent years. This is only the third manatee SeaWorld San Antonio has rehabilitated due to the uncommon presence of manatees in Texas.
Keeping Animals Safe and Secure During Transport
Due to the size and delicate nature of manatee air transports, it can be difficult to find adequate transportation. Turtles Fly Too, an organization that coordinates air transports for animals in need, worked around the clock to try to secure an aircraft and pilot to transport this manatee to Florida. In the end, SeaWorld turned to longtime partner DHL Express to facilitate the manatee transport.
The container housing the manatee is designed with high-density, lightweight and insulated foam and secured on a palette attached to the floor for stability. The manatee rested on an 8″ bed of open cell foam under a layer of 2″ closed cell foam that offsets the weight of the animal and provides maximum comfort. The manatee was then covered in wool and space blankets to maintain a healthy body temperature and was constantly monitored during flight by SeaWorld animal care specialists using laser thermometers. To keep the body moist, the manatee was misted with water under its blankets throughout the flight.
“This is our fifth manatee successfully transferred through our global Hub in Cincinnati this year, and DHL is thrilled to continue supporting the effort to preserve and protect the manatee population,” said Cain Moodie, SVP of Network Operations and Aviation for DHL Express Americas. “Moving manatees is an intricate process, so the speed and reliability of our air network, coupled with the extensive logistics planning with SeaWorld and their partners, helps ensure these wonderful creatures get back safely to their natural habitat.”
Since 1976, SeaWorld has helped ill, orphaned, and injured manatees, rescuing and rehabilitating 1,300 manatees to date. While this is only the third manatee SeaWorld San Antonio has ever rehabilitated, SeaWorld Orlando has an extensive history of helping manatees in need. SeaWorld Orlando’s five-acre Rescue Center has the capacity to care for up to 40 manatees at a time – the largest space available in the United States – and its facilities have a wide range of critical care amenities including lifting floors, top-of-the-line therapeutic and diagnostic equipment, and expert veterinary staff.
“As manatees continue to suffer from a dangerous unusual mortality event, it’s more important now than ever to dedicate our time, energy and resources to ensuring their continued survival,” said Jon Peterson, VP of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando and Head of SeaWorld Orlando Rescue Team. “We’re grateful for the continued partnership and dedication from organizations like DHL and others who help make rescues, rehabilitations and returns not only possible, but safe and successful as well.”
SeaWorld also is credited for life-saving innovations in animal care and treatment for manatees, including developing a special baby manatee formula adaptable to meet each individual nursing calf’s requirements and creating a hand-feeding baby bottle that imitates a mother manatee. SeaWorld pioneered manatee treatment techniques including ultrasound, anesthesia, X-rays, surgery, and thermography. SeaWorld veterinarians were also the first to put a cast on an injured manatee.