Today, July 14, two manatees were released into the St. Johns River from the French Landing Boat Ramp near Blue Spring State Park after months of rehabilitation at SeaWorld Orlando.
Mandy the manatee and her calf, nicknamed “Manilow” (after the Barry Manilow song “Mandy”) were rescued from Blue Spring in March when researchers noticed that Mandy was severely underweight.
Unlike the starvation that has caused high rates of manatee deaths in the Indian River Lagoon this winter, the manatee researchers believe Mandy was overfeeding the calf, her very first.
Mother and calf were rescued together by the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, and Mom brought back to a healthy weight of more than 1,000 pounds.
The various groups came together this morning to assist in the process of returning Mandy and Manilow to the river. Before release, they were weighed and measured, and any scars on their bodies were noted. Scar patterns are the way researchers identify individual manatees.
The Save the Manatee Club and the Friends of Blue Spring State Park are currently attempting to raise funds to rebuild a rescue and release area inside the park itself, including a ramp, a staging area, and an observation deck for park visitors.
According to the Friends of Blue Spring State Park, the current area inside the park for rescue and release is unsafe, as the hefty manatees must be carried up and down narrow steps.
But releasing manatees directly into the St. Johns River (from the French Landing Boat Ramp) is less than ideal in the winter months — the cold water in the river is the reason manatees gather by the hundreds in the spring run, into the consistently 72-degree water.
Donations for the new ramp and rescue area can be made at friendsofbluespringstatepark.org/donate.