Harold the manatee’s time in Bimini came to an end on Saturday. After much discussion with local Biminites, the Bahamian Department of Marine Resources, US Fish & Wildlife, US Geological Survey and Miami SeaQuarium, the decision to capture Harold was executed….
Here is Harold resting on his sling just before he was back in the shade.
My day began at approximately 7:15 a.m., with a call from the SeaQuarium Curator. He and his 6 person manatee rescue team were 2 miles off Bimini aboard the US Coast Guard’s Cutter, Kodiak Island. It was time for us to head down to the dock as our first task of the day was to meet the Cutter offshore and pick up the rescue team and their gear. We pulled up alongside the Cutter, loaded people and crew, received well wishes from the Coast Guard and headed back into Bimini. We arrived back to the dock at approximately 8:30 a.m. Gear was rearranged while immigration and permit paperwork was sorted out. At 9:30 a.m. it was time for a volunteer meeting. The curator outlined the day’s goals and individual instructions. Then, because the manatee did not conveniently arrive at the dock, it was time for the rescue team to head out in search of the “sea cow.”
The 7 member rescue team headed out the harbor with Al Sweeting Jr. behind the wheel. My task was to use the USGS radio receiver to find the animal. Harold was pulling his tag under water (where I cannot get a signal) for approximately 5 minutes at a time, but it only took us about 30 minutes to find him in a South Bimini canal. The site was assessed and the team determined they would try to deploy the net across the canal and then once the manatee was close, pull the net in the shape of horseshoe with the opening at the beach. If this worked, it would allow the team to pull the animal onto the beach so he could be loaded on a stretcher. Well, Harold wasn’t going to let the team off that easily – and he quickly swam under the net while it was being deployed.
The gear was pulled back into the boat and we tracked Harold the western beach of South Bimini. Volunteers lined the beach (thank you!) and the Shark Lab helped keep track of the animal from their boat (thank you!). Harold was hugging the shoreline so the team was able to try a second net set…but again, Harold was too quick (who’da thought a manatee was so fast!). He appeared quite calm throughout the ordeal and never fled the area. This meant that he gave the team a third chance for a horseshoe/beach net set. And apparently, with Harold, the third time is the charm! (Photo: Keefe family)
Once the animal was the beach, approximately 8 people restrained him while he calmed down. He was continually kept cool with buckets of sea water. The vet was on-hand to monitor his condition. Shortly thereafter he was transferred to a stretcher. It took over a dozen people to carry the animal down the beach. The boat had been run bow into the sand. A dozen+ people then had the task of loading the manatee into the bow of the boat – one of the greatest challenges of the day, but again, they got through it!
With the manatee onboard, it was time to radio the Coast Guard that we had “the package.” The boat, along with a second support skiff, headed back out to sea to meet the Cutter. The boat was positioned alongside the big ship, just as it had been only hours before. The onboard crane was lowered and lifted Harold, in his sling, with apparent ease. Moments later, Harold was safe inside his transport box, ready for his big ride back to Miami….
Preliminary mtDNA analysis, from the fecal sample collected by USGS in December, shows that Harold has the 410 bp A-haplotype. This is found in all Florida manatees and has been found in 31% of manatees sampled from Puerto Rico (USGS). When further genetic studies are conducted, Harold’s genetic population origin should be determined. This will help to in selecting the location for Harold’s release back into the wild. For now, Harold faces approximately 2 weeks of quarantine at Miami SeaQuarium. Once he is given a clean bill of health, he will live with the other male manatees until his release site and date are chosen.
I look forward to hearing any Harold updates I can – and will pass those along to all of you out there! But first, I must thank those who’ve helped along the way…From those who helped pass out flyers and spread the word, those who helped keep watch at the dock and reported sightings elsewhere; thanks to those who engaged in discussions about what might be best for this wayward animal; thanks to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission who connected me with the US Fish & Wildlife whose biologist coordinated communication between necessary parties involved; thanks to the Bahamian Department of Marine Resources and their fisheries officer who observed the capture; thanks to the USGS for their insight and tagging and tracking expertise; thank you to the Miami SeaQuarium for their resources and expertise in the rescue itself; thank you to the US Coast Guard for being so willing to provide the vital marine transport; and a big thanks to ALL the Bimini volunteers without whom the capture would not have been successful and safe for our new friend Harold.
And thanks to everyone who listened to me go on and on and on about this manatee for the last 8 weeks! I guess I need to find a new obsession!
Until next time,