Meet a Manatee: Lorelei

Gentle and social, she sometimes exhibits an independent streak

Lorelei the manatee
Lorelei was born in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium and currently lives at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Lorelei has the distinction of being the first manatee born in captivity in the state of Florida. She was born on May 3, 1975 to — appropriately — parents Romeo and Juliet at the Miami Seaquarium. Lorelei also lived at The Living Seas at Epcot/Walt Disney World in Orlando and now she resides at the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in the clear headwaters of the Homosassa River.

Because Lorelei was born in captivity and knows nothing of the challenges found in the wild, she has not been considered a good candidate for release. Manatees are no longer allowed to breed in captivity because the space at rehabilitation facilities is needed to treat injured manatees and because captive-born manatees generally have had more difficulty acclimating to life in the wild. Before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service implemented that policy in 1991, Lorelei gave birth to a male calf named Hugh, who now lives at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota with another manatee named Buffett.

The staff at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park say that Lorelei has a very gentle personality and is fairly social. She is a regular at education programs and will entertain the crowd, and perhaps herself, by rolling over on her back while accepting nutritional treats. She is often seen resting with Ariel and Electra, the other manatees at the park, but Lorelei has an independent streak and will sometimes head off by herself. She’s also known for swimming laps from one end of the spring to the other — often incorporating a barrel roll as a flourish when she executes her turns.

Lorelei the manatee
Park staff report that if the other manatees at the park are not fast enough, Lorelei eats all the lettuce!

Homosassa’s manatee “fish bowl” with its observation deck and underwater viewing area sits over the Homosassa spring head. Homosassa Springs is a first magnitude spring, releasing 72° F groundwater at a rate of at least 100 cubic feet per second (64 million gallons per day). This may seem like a lot, but the amount of flow from the spring has decreased over the years due to human demands for water.

From November through March, Lorelei, Ariel, and Electra share their spring habitat with manatees living in the wild. At that time, Lorelei and the other girls are transferred to a smaller area of the spring for the winter. Their new accommodations include a supplemental heater, which the manatees love! After the transfer, gates that separate the park’s manatees from the wild herd are opened, and they remain open throughout the winter. In the spring, the gates are lowered, and Lorelei and the other captive manatees get the entire spring back for themselves. Save the Manatee Club helped purchased the new gates to ensure protection of, and manatee access to, warm water springs, since protecting manatee habitat is one of the most effective ways to protect manatees.

During the winter, Lorelei, Ariel, and Electra receive their bi-annual health assessments, and Dr. Ray Ball, the park’s veterinarian, was pleased with their condition this year. Several months ago, Dr. Ball started a new diet that included coastal hay. The hay is closer to the natural vegetation the manatees would be eating in the wild and provides them with more fiber than they would get from eating romaine lettuce alone. Park staff report that Dr. Ball is very pleased with the success of the new diet, and other facilities are now looking into incorporating coastal hay into their manatee’s diets. The park staff is also experimenting with an eel grass restoration project as a natural filtration system to improve water quality at the spring. Manatees are herbivores (plant-eaters), feeding on a large variety of submerged, emergent, and floating plants, and eel grass is one of the freshwater vegetation plants they eat in the wild. Once the grasses are determined to be thriving, the manatees will be allowed access to it. The waterway at the park has also been producing a good amount of native duckweed this summer, and the manatees love it. As the duckweed floats downstream, the manatees spend time grabbing it off the surface before it floats too far away.

In November 2015, the gates to the main spring were opened and the wild manatees were allowed into the park. The wild manatees are extremely curious and could often be seen people watching as they peeked through the underwater observatory windows. In turn, Lorelei, Ariel, and Electra were curious about the wild visitors and were often seen hanging out by the fence area observing them. Park staff reported that Lorelei was in a very playful mood this last winter and was seen rolling upside down and playing in the water. And if the other girls were not fast enough, Lorelei would eat all the lettuce!

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