The manatees had been using the area around the plant’s warmwater discharge into the river as refuge from cooling water temperatures that threatened their survival. Scheduled maintenance at the plant would have temporarily disrupted the outfall over Thanksgiving. But Imperial Sugar minimized that work and provided staff on the holiday to keep the warm water flowing until rescuers arrived.
The cow manatee, weighing 1,530 pounds, and her 425-pound male calf were netted and transported to SeaWorld in Orlando, FL. Both were in good condition Monday (the calf started nursing as soon as the manatees arrived at SeaWorld). The hope is to release them soon.
The rescue, made more challenging by low tide and deep mud, involved the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Conservation Section, SeaWorld, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Savannah State University.
DNR and Fish and Wildlife Service coordinators are grateful for the team effort and the plant’s role.
“They went to extreme measures to continue to provide the warm water for these manatees until we could rescue them,” said Mark Dodd, a senior wildlife biologist with DNR.
“The service appreciates the many conservation partners from Georgia and Florida as well as Imperial Sugar plant staff that stepped up to do their part for this large female and her dependent male calf, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Terri Calleson, Florida manatee recovery coordinator with the Fish and Wildlife Service. “This was, without a doubt, the right team for the job.”
Friday’s rescue came only three days after a team of most of the same organizations rescued another manatee cow and her calf from a tidal pond on a St. Simons Island golf course. Yet those manatees were in poorer condition from cold stress and the calf did not survive. The adult is rehabilitating at SeaWorld.
Manatees inhabit tidal rivers, estuaries and near-shore ocean waters throughout coastal Georgia during the warmer months, migrating to Florida in fall as water temperatures cool. The population of Florida manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, numbers at least 6,600, with about half found along Florida’s Gulf Coast and the remainder along the Atlantic Coast and the St. Johns River.
Formerly listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, manatees were downlisted in 2017 to threatened because of sustained population growth throughout their U.S. range. DNR cooperates with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife and others to conserve manatees in Georgia.
Species profile: www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammals/manatee.
Many involved in manatee rescue efforts ranging from Florida to South Carolina are part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, www.public.wildtracks.org.