She was beloved by many volunteers and staff members who looked after her.
By Ally Greco, Communication and Outreach Manager, Save the Manatee Club
On Wednesday, April 8th, a manatee was found dead close to Blue Spring State Park. Save the Manatee Club staff identified the manatee as Cassie, a female manatee beloved by many volunteers and staff members who looked after her. Unfortunately, no exact cause of death could be determined, since officials are not currently performing manatee recoveries or necropsies due to a current government order during the pandemic. A skeg scar from a motorboat was on her back, suggesting a boat strike could have been the culprit.
Cassie was rescued as an orphaned calf from the Tomoka River near Ormond Beach on August 26, 2015, and taken to SeaWorld Orlando for rehabilitation. She joined another orphaned male calf named Buckeye, who was rescued from the Halifax River near Daytona Beach. Both manatees received around the clock critical care. Cassie and Buckeye were transferred in 2017 to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. The pair were the first two patients in the Zoo’s Manatee Critical Care Center.
In March 2018, Cassie and Buckeye were fitted with satellite tracking devices to be monitored by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute after being released at Blue Spring State Park. As most manatees left Blue Spring in the summer, Cassie and Buckeye remained there. This posed a challenge for a team of Manatee Observer volunteers and park staff, who had to prevent touching and harassment as swimmers, divers, and kayakers enjoyed the spring. Cassie (and Buckeye) seemed to be quite acclimated to the presence of people and often curiously approached swimmers or took naps beneath the swim entrance’s stairs. By the following winter, Cassie eventually behaved more like a healthy wild manatee, entering the spring run only when it was cold and leaving to feed in the river when it warmed up.
Cassie could not have adapted to life in the wild so well without the help of a dedicated team of wildlife care staff and Manatee Observer volunteers. She delighted the public and was a perfect model for education about manatees. Although her loss of life is heartbreaking, Cassie’s story is a wonderful case study on the impact of harassment prevention in helping released manatees become wild again, even when surrounded by people. She served as a beacon of hope for manatees’ well-being after rescue, rehabilitation, and release, and the power of teamwork and education. During a time that is confusing and full of bad news, we invite you to celebrate Cassie’s life and remember her as the sweet, curious manatee that made people smile.
Save the Manatee Club would like to thank all of the volunteers and staff members in the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership who contributed to Cassie’s care.
This video shows Cassie and Buckeye’s release in 2018. Both manatees were outfitted with satellite tags so they could be monitored to make sure they adapted well to life in the wild. (Video ©Save the Manatee Club.)
Memories of Cassie:
While following Cassie in the kayak one day, she approached a woman and her daughter in a tube. The woman was trying to be respectful and move the tube away, but Cassie kept following her and nudging the tube. I started to tell her about Cassie, explaining that she was an orphan, was rescued and released, and was three years old. The woman looked at her daughter and said, “Hey, she’s three and you’re three, you are the same age!” The mother kept trying to put distance between them, but Cassie kept nudging the little girl. What can you do when two kids are together…I think it was a magical moment for all of them. — Karen Ann Bunce, Manatee Observer Volunteer
One of my favorite memories of Cassie is was watching her and Buckeye one weekday morning down in the spring boil. Buckeye was asleep in his favorite corner, and Cassie was resting close to him. I was just floating towards the middle of the boil when all of the sudden, Cassie surprised me by putting one of her flippers up on my kayak. She popped her head up, looked at me, and started to spin the kayak around in a circle. Then she went under me and slightly lifted it up a little. The whole time I’m talking to her like she’s my child, saying, “Now Cassie, behave yourself!” Every one of us who had the privilege to spend time with her knows that Cassie had her own very unique personality and just couldn’t help but love her! — Jackie Cheers, Manatee Observer Volunteer
One of my favorite memories with Cassie was when my cousin Rachel came to visit us from Oregon. She’d never seen a manatee, so we put her in my personal kayak, with our son in my husband’s kayak, while he and I were on an Observer shift. Cassie and Buckeye came right up to Rachel, making sure she got a great view and education about manatees to take back to Oregon with her. — Shari Dworkin-Smith, Manatee Observer Volunteer
She and Buckeye made quite a pair, and there was never a dull moment with them in the spring. I will always remember Cassie and her introducing me to the Manatee Observer program. She was certainly a good, and challenging, mentor. Just shows that we must “double down” on our education efforts and other protections for these gentle creatures. — Mike Galyean, Manatee Observer Volunteer
As a Manatee Observer Volunteer, I loved when Cassie’s presence made for an educational opportunity with park visitors, especially those visiting from other states and countries. While the volunteers gave a lot of time and effort to keep her safe, she also gave back to us. She made plenty of people smile, and she even provided great experience for me when I became a kayak guide later that year. She was my favorite manatee and will be missed! — Ally Greco, Save the Manatee Club Staff and Volunteer
Two years ago I began as a volunteer with the Manatee Observer program. Little did I know how much joy this would bring to my life. My first two manatees to observe were Buckeye and Cassie. Like two peas in a pod, they stayed side by side in the spring run for months. When I would arrive in the morning to start my shift, I would see their GPS buoys and immediately begin smiling. Cassie loved her stairs and spent many hours resting under them during the busy swim season. She was a beautiful manatee. I got to see her last year during the late summer, under the stairs at the swim platform. She had lots of algae on her, but I know that meant she had gotten to travel and see lots of new places. I will always have a place in my heart for sweet Cassie. I am so sorry that she has passed over that rainbow bridge. I hope she didn’t suffer. She will always be loved by me. Sweet manatee dreams in heaven, Cassie. — Melissa Landreville, Manatee Observer Volunteer
She was such a magnificent creature. I really miss being at the park and watching the manatees. Especially during this difficult time. There is a sense of peace on the spring, especially when there are manatees present, that is like no other. I feel so fortunate to live in a place where we are able to observe these incredible animals. It won’t be the same without Cassie, though. — Cheryl Hamilla, Manatee Observer Volunteer