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Manatees returned to the wild in The Bahamas
By Bahamas Department of Marine Resources Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources
Apr 25, 2012 - 9:32:07 PM

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Radio tracking tagged manatees Rita and Georgie off Great Harbour Cay. Pictured from Left to Right: Delano Springer, Dolphin Cay-Atlantis; Kendria Ferguson, BMMRO; Indira Brown, Department of Marine Resources; Russell Morgan, Dolphin Cay-Atlantis; Jim Reid, US Geological Survey. (Image courtesy of USGS).

Nassau, Bahamas - The Department of Marine Resources is pleased to inform that the two (2) manatees that were removed from the Nassau Harbour on 15th October 2011 have been returned to the wild after being under the care of the marine mammal team at Atlantis on Paradise Island.

In November 2009, a manatee was sighted in Spanish Wells harbour, North Eleuthera.  Photographs of her distinctive scar patterns were provided to the US Geological Survey’s Sirenia Project where they were matched to “Rita”, an adult female known to be residing in south Florida since 1988.

Shortly after arriving in Spanish Wells, marine mammal care staff from Dolphin Cay (Atlantis Resort) conducted several health assessments of Rita. They determined through ultrasound that she was pregnant and advised locals to provide her with food and water to ensure that she remained well-nourished throughout her pregnancy. In June 2010, she gave birth to a female calf, who locals named Georgie. Rita and Georgie became very popular amongst Spanish Wells residents so much so that Rita’s own Facebook page was launched and now has over 800 friends.

Rita and Georgie continued to frequent Spanish Wells harbour until hurricane Irene passed over Spanish Wells in August 2011, when they disappeared. The next sighting of the wayward pair was in Nassau harbour in October. Due to concern about potential vessel strikes, the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) authorised Dolphin Cay’s marine mammal response team to capture the manatees so their health could be evaluated and they could be maintained until a decision was made about their disposition. On October 15 th 2011, Rita and Georgie were captured and taken to Dolphin Cay, Atlantis Resort.

During their time at Atlantis the manatees have been the recipients of excellent care, have been closely monitored and undergone several examinations by veterinarians and other marine mammal experts.

Local efforts to have the manatees returned to the wild have been spearheaded by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), a local non-governmental organisation based at Sandy Point, Abaco.

With the assistance of manatee researcher Jim Reid at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the BMMRO prepared a release plan suggesting the relocation of the two (2) manatees to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands where a small group of manatees were already in residence, and the implementation of a programme of tracking and monitoring after release.

In consultation with Atlantis, the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation, the USGS and the Save the Manatee Club of Florida, the Department of Marine Resources approved the release plan that involved awareness building in the Great Harbour Cay community, transport of the manatees to Great Harbour Cay, attaching monitoring devices to the manatees, their release and subsequent monitoring.

In preparation for Rita and Georgie’s release, BMMRO has conducted research at Great Harbour Cay to learn more about the manatees that have been residing there for the past 13 years. Equally important, BMMRO’s education officer Kendria Ferguson commenced educational outreach to the local community, visiting the school to give seminars, and increasing awareness about manatee presence for boaters.

The two (2) manatees have been safely transported, released and are being monitored as they explore their new surroundings. The public can follow Rita and Georgie’s adaptation to their new home and new friends on BMMRO’s manatee blog at HYPERLINK "http://bmmro.blogspot.com/" ht tp://bmmro.blogspot.com/ .

As part of BMMRO’s outreach work, in collaboration with Loggerhead Productions and with funding from the Lyford Cay Foundation, there will a 5-minute educational video on manatees in The Bahamas that will be available later this year. 

The USGS has pioneered the use of satellite-monitored radio tags to track the movements and habits of manatees in Florida and internationally.  These tethered floating radio tags obtain precise locations and can be remotely monitored.

Over the past few decades, the number of manatee sightings in The Bahamas has increased. The origin of some of these individuals has been traced, through a photo-identification database, to Florida, where manatee populations are increasing in some parts of the state. One female manatee named “Gina” has been residing in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands, since 1999. Her history has been traced back to Florida, and she has reportedly produced 3 offspring. Most of her offspring are reported to have remained in the area.  The expectation is that we will be seeing more mantees in The Bahamas in the future.

This exercise has been a joint effort involving a number of groups, each providing resources of various kinds to achieve a common goal of ensuring the safety of the manatees in their natural environment.

While monitoring and tracking are still ongoing, it is appropriate at this time to note that this effort has been one that has involved a number of different organisations and could not have its current success without the expenditure of considerable resources, time and expertise of many persons.  The Department of Marine Resources takes this opportunity to extend sincere thanks to the marine mammal team at Atlantis, the staff of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation, the USGS, the Save the Manatee Club and to the people of Great Harbour Cay for being so receptive and those of Spanish Wells who showed great care and concern for the manatees.

Boats operators in the water around Great Harbour Cay are reminded to reduce their speed and to be on the lookout for manatees.  The public is reminded that manatees, as all other marine mammals, are protected in The Bahamas and should be admired from a distance.  Manatees in the wild should not be fed.

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