Hurricane-swept manatee lost at sea finds kindness in The Bahamas

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Far from home and critically ill, the wayward manatee was rescued and rehabbed and is almost ready to return to the sea.

 Photo credit:  Melissa Breyer

Photo credit: Melissa Breyer

While the impacts from hurricanes are tragically obvious on land, it’s hard to imagine how it affects the ocean’s inhabitants. But it does. And in the case of a manatee from Tampa, Florida, this fall’s hurricanes were nearly fatal.

Found by residents of Spanish Wells, Bahamas, the manatee – named Manny T by his rescuers – was far from home and critically ill. The eight to 10-year-old boy was suffering from extreme malnutrition and dehydration; he was half the weight he should have been for a manatee his age. Poor sweet guy. It was later determined through boat scar identification that he came all the way from Tampa, Florida.

So what to do when a sick wayward manatee turns up at your island? Lucky for Manny, Paradise Island's Atlantis animal rescue team was called in to help. A team of veterinarians and marine mammal experts hopped aboard a dedicated marine vessel and off they went to Spanish Wells.

After stabilizing his condition, Manny was brought to Paradise Island where he underwent blood sampling, numerous analyses and a full health examination. He was closely monitored and slowly began his rehabilitation in a large enclosed area off of a secluded part of the island.

This is where I had the special pleasure of meeting the marvelous manatee, while tagging along on a volunteer vacation earlier this month thanks to JetBlue and their Check In For Good campaign. (We were there to help restore a coral reef, the adventures of which you can read about here: A day spent planting nursery-grown coral in a Bahamian reef.) In an effort to keep Manny as wild as possible, human contact with him is limited – so it’s not like a groups of us got to jump in and swim around with him. But we did get to participate in one of his daily feedings of lettuce … and I can’t tell you how cute it is to see a manatee devour many, many whole heads of romaine.

 Photo credit: Melissa Breyer

Photo credit: Melissa Breyer

At this point, he has gained some 400 pounds since his rescue in September (that’s a lot of lettuce, he also likes kale and spinach) and is in good health; he will be released back into the watery wilds soon. When the time comes, the team will return him to where he was found in Spanish Wells.

While there isn’t a huge population of manatees in The Bahamas, a handful of the gentle giants have found their way there and stayed. Can you blame them? And as it turns out, there is a female manatee who already calls Spanish Wells home. From boat strikes in Florida to nearly dead and lost at sea, a big healthy boy will be offered retirement in the Bahamas with a lady friend for frolicking. Nobody can say how many animals were harmed by the recent spate of hurricanes, but for one lucky manatee at least, the future is looking brighter.