Land & Conservation

Manatee and Calf Swim Free After Storm Surge Traps Them in Florida

The sea cows were stuck behind a retaining wall after Hurricane Dorian

Photo: Courtesy of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

The mother and her calf in the Halifax Harbor Marina.

An adult manatee and her calf swam free on Wednesday after being trapped behind a retention wall in Daytona Beach, Florida, during Hurricane Dorian. Workers from the marine mammal rescue staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the city of Daytona Beach used a barge and crane to remove two panels from the retention wall, allowing the sea cows to swim out of the Halifax Harbor Marina and into the Halifax River.

Both animals became trapped after a storm surge caused by Dorian forced them into the shallow enclosure. The FWC became aware of the manatees’ condition last week, but spokesperson Michelle Kerr said rescuers could not lift or pull the mammals from the water due to the high, steep walls of the enclosure. “Tides rose very high during Hurricane Dorian, allowing the manatees to swim over an enclosure they don’t normally have access to,” Kerr told Garden & Gun. “When the tide went down, they were unable to leave.”

The rescue took several hours Wednesday due to the depth of the wall’s support piles, which sit more than twenty-six feet below the riverbed, according to Throughout the effort to remove the panels, rescue staff in kayaks kept the manatees away from walls to prevent injury and give workers room. A live stream of the operation showed crowds of people watching from the sea wall, some throwing lettuce into the water for the manatees, who had been surviving on algae for almost a week. According to officials, the rescue cost the city of Daytona Beach an estimated $10,000.

Manatees, once classified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, are now listed as threatened, as their numbers have grown over the past few decades. The slow-moving creatures reside in warm, shallow waters just below the surface, making them especially vulnerable to watercraft. Through September 6, the FWC recorded 391 manatee deaths this year, including 108 by watercraft.

Also see: Goats evacuated in advance of Dorian