Saving "C.C.", The Manatee

Last Sunday, I received an email from Dr. James (“Buddy”) A. Powell of Sea to Shore Alliance.  Sea to Shore Alliance is a locally based conservation group working globally to find solutions that will reduce threats to endangered aquatic species, such as manatees, northern right whales and sea turtles, as well as protect or restore their coastal habitats.  You can find out more about this wonderful group here:  http://public.sea2shore.org/.  Buddy’s email described an upcoming manatee rescue happening the next day and asked whether I’d be able to help out.  It took me about a millisecond to jump at the opportunity because (1) these mammals are so frickin adorable I can’t stand to think of one in trouble and (2) I might also get a chance to take some photographs of the rescue.

C.C. is a young male manatee (estimated age of 5-6 years) who was first rescued from the Caloosahatchee River  as an orphan on July 1, 2006. At that time, he was 121 cm long and only weighed 55 lbs. Florida Fish and Wildlife Service transported him to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, to rehabilitate and he was eventually released at Crystal River on March 4, 2009. At that point he had grown to 240 cm in length and weighed 465 lbs. He began the adaptation process but then found a cove in the Gulf just outside Crystal River and did not appear to be leaving it often enough to get sufficient fresh water and food. He was eventually brought back to SeaWorld in Orlando on April 10, 2009, suffering from dehydration and malnutrition.  After additional rehabilitation C.C. was again released into the wild earlier this year.  Unfortunately, he continues to exhibit a lack of adaptive skills (there was some talk of him being a little “slow” if you catch my drift) and he was again heading out into the colder Gulf waters with an approaching cold front that could seriously jeopardize his life.

After searching for about an hour with radio tracking receivers we finally located C.C. about 2 miles from the mouth of Crystal River.  He was aground in a shallow mangrove cove apparently caught there by the low tide and unable to make an exit to deeper water.  After a quick assessment of his condition, our group netted and brought him aboard the boat for transportation back to the warmer spring-fed waters of Crystal River.  During the transport, C.C.’s condition was constantly monitored by a manatee biologist from the U.S.G.S.  I felt fortunate to ride in the boat along with C.C. and even helped calm him down by putting a hand on his head whenever he became anxious.

Prior to the release I entered the water to try to document the moment.  Unfortunately, I failed to recognize two key factors:  (1) how much muck a 600 pound manatee can stir up and (2) how fast they can actually move when they are in the water.  Both factors cruelly conspired against my dream of award-winning photographs.  However, I do like to think the picture above shows that C.C. was smiling upon his release.

You can see the entire picture set here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimmywhitephoto/sets/72157623441432335

5 Responses to “Saving "C.C.", The Manatee”

  1. […] to Shore Alliance.  You might remember my earlier blog post about a manatee rescue they handled (click here to see that earlier post).  Every dollar […]

  2. Awesome story, Jimmy. I am completely jealous as I too have a strange fondness for the little critters. I think possibly my favorite image of all was the one you created in my minds eye of you and C.C. sharing quiet, consoling moments.

  3. Hailey says:

    Jimmy, this is so fantastic. I just love these animals. You’re so lucky to live in a place with these kind of opportunities. Can’t wait to hear what’s next 🙂

  4. chad says:

    what a cool experience, i’m sure CC is grateful you were there to comfort him and provide him with a great head shot…

  5. Halvor says:

    Nice work, Jimmy! Too bad about the muck, but the shots you have are good ones. And really, the experience sounds great. I’m envious. I wonder how a manatee smells?