DRC veterinarian Dr. Scott Gearhart makes a final assessment on lacerations caused by a propeller strike to the head of this male manatee in April. The strike caused a skull fracture, with bone fragments later removed at SeaWorld Orlando during the animal’s recovery. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed

The exhaustive efforts of four manatee rescue and rehabilitation organizations came to fruition on Nov. 29 with the release of three healthy manatees in Key Colony Beach.

Rescued from Marathon and Duck Key, all three male manatees underwent significant treatment and rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando after collaborative rescue efforts by Dolphin Research Center, Aquarium Encounters and FWC’s manatee rescue teams along with many concerned community volunteers.

Rescued April 19 from grass flats off Marathon’s 63rd Street Ocean, one animal suffered skull fractures when hit in the head by a propeller. Transported with an extremely guarded prognosis, the animal made an incredible recovery after having bone fragments removed, along with antibiotics and nutritional support. It reached a weight of 1,200 pounds upon release.

A second severely emaciated animal was rescued from Duck Key on June 10. Named “ManaKey,” the eight-foot animal weighed only 460 pounds when first rescued – healthy manatees should weigh roughly 100 pounds per foot. A five-and-a-half month rehab period with treatment for gastric issues and nutritional support resulted in a weight gain of 545 pounds as the animal attained a release weight of 1,005 pounds.

Rescue and rehab staffers take final measurements and mark existing scars with a temporary marker before ManaKey’s release. FLORIDA KEYS NEWS BUREAU/Contributed

Named “Duval,” the third animal was rescued from a Marathon residential canal on July 6. The underweight sea cow was treated for inflammatory changes in his blood as well as dehydration and potential constipation, reaching a release weight of 1,175 pounds.

A waiting crowd cheered as crews carried all three manatees back to the water behind Key Colony Beach’s city hall on Tuesday afternoon.

“Three animals in the same day – there’s nothing better,” said DRC veterinarian Dr. Scott Gearhart. “To take in an animal that needs your help and to see them released is fantastic.”

“We share the waterways with these animals,” he cautioned. “They’re very slow moving and they get into stuff, and you really need to be careful about what your activity is on the water.”

All reports of injured or stranded manatees should be directed to 888-404-FWCC. When healthy, ribs and other bones should not be visible on manatees, and stranded animals should never be returned to the ocean before evaluation and approval by licensed organizations.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.