The manatee rehabilitated at sea with Nemo and his friends at EPCOT has returned to its natural habitat

While it’s usually sad to leave EPCOT, one recent departure was a very happy one, as a rehabilitated manatee at The Seas with Nemo & Friends was returned to its natural habitat at Blue Spring State Park in Florida.

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Director of Animal and Science Operations, Scott Terrell, DVM, DACVP, recently described the efforts on the Disney Parks Blog:

“The level of passion and teamwork that our cast members dedicate to all animals is inspiring, even for those only temporarily in our care, like the rescued manatees, which are an iconic Florida species. . That dedication was on full display recently when we partnered with the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership to release a 680-pound manatee named Plantaina into a freshwater spring on the St. Johns River, about 80 miles north -east of Walt Disney World Resort.

Plantaina is a young female manatee who was rescued as a baby near Fort Lauderdale, Florida when she was found abandoned less than a week old. She weighed only 28 pounds at the time, making her the smallest manatee ever rescued. After an initial successful rehab, Plantaina was released back into the wild (February 2021). However, it was soon discovered that she was losing weight, which necessitated another rescue and rehabilitation before coming to The Seas with Nemo & Friends at EPCOT. After increasing her weight to 680 pounds, she was able to be released back into her natural habitat.

Unfortunately, manatee rescues and rehabilitations are becoming more and more common. A severe lack of food is of concern as runoff and pollution continue to threaten their primary food source. Each of these large herbivores can eat up to 300 pounds of seagrass per day, and many are beginning to starve due to lack of aquatic plants, further impacting this endangered species.

Working with other Florida rehabilitation centers, our Disney animal care experts provide sick and injured manatees with the stable, controlled environment they need to recover and prepare for release. The manatees receive exceptional veterinary care, including preventative health checks, a high-calorie diet, and 24-hour monitoring to help them return to the wild when deemed healthy. Once released, some manatees like Plantaina are assigned a satellite tracker that allows experts to continue monitoring the animal’s health, migration and socialization with other manatees. These satellite trackers are designed to detach if they become entangled in order to prioritize the health of the manatee.

Plantaina is one of six manatees to complete rehabilitation at Disney in the past year. To date, we have had the opportunity to assist in the successful rehabilitation and release of 25 Florida manatees. When in our care, manatees can be given up to 150 heads of romaine lettuce each day depending on their individual needs, along with occasional treats of apples, carrots and sweet potatoes, to help them regain their natural weight before it can be released.

In addition to releases, the Disney Conservation Fund has awarded grants to more than 15 nonprofit organizations to better understand manatee populations, biology and habitat use, help with seagrass restoration, and provide manatee care. It is very rewarding to see these funds helping animals right here in our own backyard.

I am so proud to work with a team of animal care experts who are passionately dedicated to protecting manatees and their natural habitats. With each successful release, we continue to work towards a brighter, more sustainable future where people, plants and animals all have a thriving place to call home.

Check out the video of Plantaina’s return to the wild in the video below!

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