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All About the Rescue and Treatment of a 950-lb Manatee Trapped in a Florida Storm Drain

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Steve Helling

The manatee that was rescued from a Jacksonville storm drain on Wednesday is being rehabbed and will be returned to the wild after she fully recovers from her ordeal.

PEOPLE was there when the adult female manatee was transported to the place where she’ll spend the next few days or weeks: the Manatee Rehabilitation Area of SeaWorld Orlando.

After the 950-lb. mammal was removed from the drain, she was placed into a truck for the 150-mile ride to Orlando. When she arrived at her temporary home, she was lifted by crane into a medical pool that allows veterinarians easy access to her for checkups and examinations.

The 950-lb manatee is transported by crane into the medical pool
Steve Helling

She had several scrapes and lacerations, likely a result of her thrashing around the drainpipe. She was also slightly dehydrated.

Dr. Stacy DiRocco, a veterinarian at SeaWorld rescue, tells PEOPLE that the animal seems to be in good condition. “She doesn’t have any injuries that concern me,” DiRocco says. “I think she’ll be with us for days or weeks, not months. We’ll then release her back to the wild when the time is right.

The Manatee’s First Night In Rehabilitation

Here’s what happens when a manatee — or any large animal — is rescued: veterinarians check all their vital signs. They assess any wounds or injuries. Then they come up with a course of treatment.

The animal care team begins treating the rescued manatee
Steve Helling

So when is the animal ready to be released into the wild?

Just like a human hospital, doctors are checking for a few vital signs to prove that she’s on the road to recovery. “She needs to eat, she needs to defecate, and she needs to be able to swim around,” says Randy Runnells, Assistant Curator of Mammals.

The manatee has been given painkillers for her injuries. “She’s probably a little bit sore today,” says Runnells. “So we’re trying to make her comfortable while she’s here.”

There’s one more thing the manatee needs: a name. Although several people have come up with possible monikers, she remains unnamed. (One Jacksonville TV station has been calling her Piper, because she was found in a pipe. Get it?)

“She’ll get a name,” laughs Dr. DiRocco. “Once everybody can agree on one.”

Encouraging Signs

When the manatee arrived at SeaWorld on Tuesday evening, she was given fluids through a feeding tube and given antibiotics. She was monitored most of the night.

On Wednesday afternoon, however, things had improved for her. PEOPLE was by the tank when the she ate her first solid food since being rescued: a head of lettuce. “It’s a good sign that she’s eating,” says DiRocco. “It shows that she’s getting back to normal.”

The manatee is not alone. She is sharing the medical pool with another female manatee named Una who had been entangled in fishing line for so long that her skin began to grow around it. (She had surgery on Thursday morning to remove it.) Una also has a seven-month-old calf in the pool with her.

Steve Helling

 

So when the time comes for the manatee to be released, what will happen? For one thing, she’ll be tagged with a chip so that she can be identified if she is ever injured again.

And where will she go?

“We have experts who figure out where to release her,” says DiRocco. “They’ll figure out the best place for her to get on with her life.”