Hurricane-Swept Manatee Lost at Sea Finds Kindness in the Bahamas

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©. Melissa Breyer

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

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.

Manny T

© 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.