Friday, October 30, 2009

Ilya the Manatee Rescued

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lindberg

Ilya the manatee, who was in danger of perishing in cold New Jersey waters, was returned safely to Florida yesterday. He was found huddling in warmer water from a discharge pipe of the ConocoPhillips oil refinery in Linden. After four rescue attempts on Tuesday, which took more than 7 1/2 hours, Ilya was pulled from Morse Creek, a small tributary of the Arthur Kill. He then spent two days recuperating at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center (MMSC) in Brigantine. Authorites kept Ilya's rescue secret because they were concerned that a crush of media and well-wishers might stress the sea cow.

The rescue was coordinated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Manatee Rescue, Rehabilition and Release Program. They were concerned about Ilya because the water temperature in Morse Creek dropped as low as 53 degrees, well below the 68 degrees manatees need to survive. More than 30 rescuers, including volunteers from the MMSC, ConocoPhillips Bayway Refinery, U.S. Coast Guard, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Point Pleasant Rescue Dive Team and the Miami Seaquarium. They used a 300-foot net to maneuver the 1,100-pound, 10-foot-long manatee onto the bank of the creek. Then a crane from the refinery lifted him onto a stretcher which was loaded on a truck and driven to the stranding center. After two days of recuperation, during which Ilya ate more than $300 worth of produce, veterinarians determined that he was healthy enough for the flight to Florida. He was loaded aboard a Coast Guard C-130 cargo plane, covered with wet towels, and flown south. Click here to see a video of Ilya being loaded onto the transport craft.

Ilya is now at the Miami Seaquarium but will be released eventually into southeast Florida waters, pending a proper weight gain and other medical tests. "We like to get them back out as early as possible," said Chuck Underwood, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Jacksonville, Florida. Bob Schoelkopf, director of the MMSC, said, "We're very relieved. We spent a lot of days worrying about him." We did too — this is great news!