Meet A Manatee: Rocket

“Just a good little manatee”

Rocket the manatee
Wayne Hartley, Save the Manatee Club’s Manatee Specialist, captures Rocket moving quickly and living up to his name.

Date: June 30, 2021

On November 3, 2005, just as manatee season was getting underway, Wayne Hartley, then a ranger at Blue Spring State Park, noticed a tiny calf in the spring run. The only adults present at the time were male, and the mother was nowhere in sight. The little calf, who was also male, was declared an orphan and named “Tiny.” Wayne and the park staff, along with manatee researchers, continued to keep an eye on him. Female manatees will sometimes adopt orphaned calves, and that was the hope for this little guy. That season, Tiny nursed from various mothers, but he would not stay with or follow one female. Soon, a decision was made: Tiny was not thriving, and he had to be rescued.

Tiny was subsequently taken to SeaWorld Orlando for treatment, where he was renamed “Rocket” because he had been known to “rocket” around the tank during his rehabilitation. When Rocket was released at Blue Spring two years later, he was a healthy 745 pounds and immediately rocketed around the run, living up to his name. Annie, another Blue Spring adoptee, and Rocket were in the same tank at SeaWorld, and when they were released, they stayed together for about a year and a half. This behavior is unusual outside of mother and calf pairs, as manatees are known as semi-social, somewhat solitary animals. Instead, wherever Annie went, Rocket was sure to follow. The park staff called them the “kids” or the “twins.”

Rocket the manatee
Rocket at Blue Spring on January 25, 2017. He is often a late arrival for manatee season at the park.

Both Annie and Rocket have returned to winter at Blue Spring, although by now, they have gone their separate ways. After staying with Annie in the wild for a year and a half, Rocket went out on his own. He is still small for an adult male and will probably always be that way. As Wayne puts it, “He is just a good little manatee.” During the 2013 season, Rocket got some bad cold stress, but it had healed once he reached Blue Spring. The next year, Rocket was an early arrival to the warm waters of Blue Spring, apparently having learned his lesson from the year before. However, for both the 2014 – 2015 and 2015 – 2016 manatee seasons, he was once again a late arrival. There were no signs of cold stress, but he did get a new boat scar along the right side of his tail that had healed and another new one at his left peduncle (base of the tail) that was minor.

In December 2016, Monica Ross, a researcher with the Clearwater Marine Research Institute (former Sea to Shore Alliance), took photos of Rocket safe in a northern spring, and he finally made his appearance at Blue Spring State Park on January 24, 2017. Rocket had a new scar, but he was doing okay. However, he came in so late he did not count as staying the season. But Rocket made several other visits and was even spotted playing in the boil at Blue Spring.

Each person who adopts Rocket will receive a full-color photo, biography, and adoption certificate, as well as a membership handbook and subscription to The Manatee Zone, a newsletter featuring updates on the adopted manatees when they are sighted, and Paddle Tales, SMC’s bi-monthly enewsletter. For more information about adopting Rocket, go to Save the Manatee Club’s Adopt-A-Manatee page or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

See a video compilation of Rocket during his winter visits to Blue Spring State Park in the 2015 – 2016 season. Rocket checks out the research canoe, surfaces to breathe, uses his flipper to scratch his eye, and cavorts with another manatee, all the while enjoying the warm water at the spring that is vital to manatee survival in the winter. (Video © Save the Manatee Club.)