I have heard about Blue Springs, winter home of manatees, for years. Even though it is late in the season, on a whim, we decided to go visit last weekend. I had seen the list of some of the tagged manatees, monitored by Sea to Shore Alliance, before we went. I was hoping for a sighting, but was not getting my hopes up since the weather was warmer.
As we got into the park, there were rumors of one manatee in the area. Moving on to the end of the walkway I saw an infamous tag floating in the water. There she was! Slowly moving among people swimming was a lone manatee. Others in the area said her name was Pixie.
When I returned home, I looked up her profile, which states:
Pixie was rescued as a very young orphaned calf on July 24, 2010. She was found in Daytona in the Halifax River, Volusia County, when she was 110 cm long and weighed 42 lbs, and brought in to SeaWorld in Orlando for medical care. She also spent time in Columbus Zoo to grow and gain weight before being moved to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Pixie was released at Blue Spring in the St. Johns River in January 2014.
After reading her story I was concerned. What if she didn’t know how to leave the springs? What if people harassed her in the spring? What would happen if she didn’t leave?
All these questions were weighing heavily on my mind, so on Tuesday I decided to call. First I spoke to Buddy Powell, Executive Director of Sea to Shore Alliance. Buddy has worked for more than 40 years conserving manatees starting at Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1970s. He co-founded Sea to Shore Alliance in 2008. He said that occasionally a rescued manatee will imprint on people and not join the other manatees in the area. He said they were looking for volunteers who would monitor her at the springs to ensure swimmers were keeping a distance from her. I gladly volunteered and was then referred to Melody Fischer.
Melody, Manatee Field Biologist, instructed me to tell people to ignore her and stay 20 ft. away. My first “shift” was to be Saturday, March 30. She said worst case scenario, Pixie would be returned to captivity and put on a program to make her less reliant on humans. I was looking forward to Saturday to do my part for Pixie to remain wild.
Thursday morning I received a heartbreaking email from Melody.
Fish and Wildlife Service has made the decision to bring Pixie into captivity as soon as possible for her safety and for the potential safety risk she could pose to swimmers after noting some of her more aggressive pursuing behavior. A capture attempt is scheduled for today at 10 am.
I was able to speak to Melody later and she explained that Pixie was becoming even more aggressive when she ignored. She would most likely be returning to Lowry Park Zoo and would be a candidate for re-release next winter. The concern is that if she chases after people, it would put her at a higher risk with boaters when/if she were to leave the spring. For her safety, it is best to try to desensitize her to humans.
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Pixie was successfully moved to Lowry Park Zoo on Thursday. Melody told DBNJ that Pixie will undergo “a behavior conditioning program to wean her off human attention and encourage her to socialize more with other manatees.”
I’m incredibly grateful for the work done by Sea to Shore Alliance, and hopefully I can see Pixie at Blue Springs next winter. For more manatee updates, check out their partner’s page Save the Manatees Club and sign the petition to give manatees sanctuary in Kings Bay. I’ll continue to post updates when available.
From Lowry Park:
Pixie arrived safely and is settling in to their Manatee Hospital and Aquatic Center. Her weight and body condition are in the normal parameters, so that is not a concern at this time. She will likely gain weight while she is there, since she will not need to find her own food. She is eating normally and has begun to socialize with other manatee patients. Their team will be working with her in the coming weeks and months to prepare her for another opportunity for release.