The Rescue and Release of Jesup

Jesup the manatee is rescued.
Rescued from a muddy canal, emaciated and suffering from cold stress, Jesup the manatee is loaded onto a stretcher for transport.

By Cora Berchem, Director of Multimedia and Manatee Research Associate, Save the Manatee Club

On the afternoon of March 2, 2020, we got a call from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asking if we could check on a manatee that had been reported in a canal in Oviedo, Florida. Ovideo, located in Central Florida, is usually not a hot spot for manatee sightings, especially not at the end of winter, so the report was rather surprising. However, manatees can access Lake Jesup through the St. Johns River system. As well as being a Save the Manatee Club staff (SMC) staff member, I also volunteer with FWC, the agency responsible for coordinating rescues of sick and injured manatees in Florida. So, I drove out to the area and verified the report confirming that there was indeed a lethargic manatee in very shallow water in a canal connecting to Lake Jesup.

The next morning, a team from FWC, SeaWorld Orlando, the Cincinnati Zoo (who happened to be in town for a release the previous day), and SMC rescued the approximately eight-foot-long male manatee from the canal. The rescue proved to be more difficult than expected as the manatee tried to escape each rescue attempt, and the canal was about five feet of muck with no visibility.

The rescue team was surprised to find an alligator in the rescue net! The alligator was relocated to the open water of the lake.

A net was deployed to cut off access to the open lake to prevent the manatee from escaping into open water. Then a second net was used to capture the manatee itself. The first thing the team caught in the net was an alligator! After the alligator was safely relocated into the open water of the lake, the team was finally able to capture the manatee. A rescue net consists of lead lines on the bottom and float lines on the top. Since the canal was shallow and bringing a rescue boat in was not feasible, the team did a land-based net-set to “scoop” the manatee up, lift it into a stretcher, and transport it to the waiting rescue truck. Luckily, manatees do not crush under their own weight and can be transported comfortably out of the water for prolonged periods of time. The male manatee was placed on a foam mat, and the rescue truck took off to SeaWorld Orlando.

After two months of successful rehabilitation at SeaWorld for emaciation and cold stress syndrome, the manatee, now named “Jesup” after the location where he was found, had put on 150 pounds and was considered ready for release back out into the wild. Jesup, like all rescued manatees, was outfitted with a PIT-tag, similar to a microchip that would be placed in a dog or a cat. This allows researchers to scan the manatee, so if it is ever re-rescued or recovered, researchers would know which manatee it is. Since Jesup was deemed to be a subadult — meaning he is old enough to know his way around to find things like food and warm water areas in the winter — he was not outfitted with a satellite tracking device. A team from FWC, SeaWorld, and Save the Manatee Club released Jesup back into Lake Jesup on May 6, 2020.

We want to thank everyone who helped with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of Jesup as part of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, as well as the citizens who reported the manatee in the first place. If you see a sick, injured, orphaned or dead manatee, please report it to FWC at 1-888-404-3922. Click the following link for more information on how to spot a sick or injured manatee.

Jesup the manatee is released
Two months later, after putting on 150 pounds, Jesup is released. Sara Wappes with FWC marks his previous scars and photographs them for ID purposes before the release.