MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Millennium and Falcon, two manatees found orphaned in the Florida Keys two years ago, are back home in the wild.
Thursday morning, the two manatees were moved from their temporary home at the Miami Seaquarium to the waters off Key Largo.
“They did spend four months with their mom there,” explained Amber Howell, a research associate with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation. “They learned where to go and find food, we always put the animals back where we rescued them,” she added.
The gentle sea cows were only 4 months old when their mother “Bonnie” was hit by a boat and died in October 2016. When they were recovered, the calves weighed about 100 pounds each. Today the young manatees weigh about 600 pounds each.
Manatee calves usually stay with their mothers for one to two years.
The manatees were rescued and sent to a zoo in Ohio where they continued to eat and grow. Once they both reached 600 pounds, they were returned to the Seaquarium in preparation to be released back where they were found.
“The biggest challenge is their size,” said Julie Heyde a senior Animal Care Specialist at the Seaquarium. “They are very powerful and even though they look large their body is almost pure muscle.”
Flanked on either side by at least three or four animal care specialists, the manatees were loaded onto an air-conditioned trailer truck and sent on their way to Key Largo Thursday.
Spectators applauded as the two-and-a-half-year-old twins were returned to an area with open-water access to Florida Bay. Each was fitted with a satellite tracking transmitter, tethered by a break away belt, to ensure the marine mammals are monitored and thrive.
“Their body condition will be checked and they’ll be looked at and tracked to make sure that the progress is smooth,” said Dolphin Research Center’s Mary Stella.
The process will last anywhere from three to four months to up to a year.