Romeo arriving at ZooTampa. (Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.)

Under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) assisted in the transport of three manatees from Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) recently. The animals were successfully transported to facilities at SeaWorld Orlando and ZooTampa, two of only three critical care centers for manatees in the United States, where they are now undergoing thorough veterinary examinations.

The manatees were each prepared for transport, loaded into specialized transport vehicles and accompanied by an experienced team of veterinarians and animal care specialists. Transport trucks for this effort were provided by ZooTampa, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The manatees transported from MSQ include Romeo, a male, and Juliet, a female weighing over 3,000 pounds. Both animals are over 65 years in age and have resided at MSQ since the late 1950s. The pair arrived at MSQ prior to the enactment of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. After the call of MSQ to provide a better social group for both Romeo and Juliet, ZooTampa contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and offered to temporarily care for these two manatees while the MRP identifies a permanent location for them.

Clarity is an adult female manatee that has resided at MSQ since 2009 after she was rescued due to watercraft-related injuries. Through the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has jurisdiction over Clarity, and the USFWS requested SeaWorld Orlando to assume care for her. She will reside at SeaWorld Orlando until a group of MRP experts reviews her case and determines the best placement for her at another facility.

Florida manatees are at risk from natural and human-caused threats, including exposure to the loss of sea grass, red tide, cold stress, disease, boat strikes, crushing by flood gates or locks as well as entanglement or ingesting of fishing gear.

Members of the MRP that helped with this complicated transport effort include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, SeaWorld Orlando, ZooTampa, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Bishop Museum of Science and Nature, University of Florida, Mote Marine Lab, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, and Save the Manatee Club.

The MRP is a cooperative group of nonprofit, private, state and federal entities that work together to advance manatee conservation by partnering in manatee rescue, rehabilitation, release and monitoring, research and education efforts.

“We are grateful to all organizations involved in this intricate operation, including law enforcement partners, for successfully transporting Romeo and Juliet to ZooTampa,” stated the zoo’s senior vice president of animal health, education and conservation, Dr. Cynthia Stringfield.

For nearly three decades, ZooTampa has been entrusted in emergency situations to intervene, triage and save critically injured, sick and orphaned manatees with the goal of returning each one to its native waters. The zoo’s David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center has three 16,500-gallon medical care pools with controlled floors and two manatee recovery habitats containing 200,000 gallons of water combined.

The zoo invests nearly $1 million every year to manatee work. On average, it costs approximately $300 a day to treat a manatee patient and approximately $3,000 a month to feed each adult manatee. ZooTampa has cared for more than 500 manatees. Currently, there are 18 manatees at ZooTampa.

Zoo Tampa is located at 1101 W. Sligh Ave. in Tampa. For more information, visit

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