Ilya, the Florida manatee rescued from New York harbor two weeks ago, should be well enough to be released in the Florida Keys in about a month, says Dr. Maya Rodriguez, the veterinarian at the Miami Seaquarium, which supplied the picture of Ilya (left) swimming with his poolmate.
“We expect him to get a clean medical mill in next couple weeks,” says Dr. Rodriguez. Identified by his mangled tail and white scar on his forehead, Ilya at least didn’t pick up any new distinguishing scars on his journey up to Cape Cod that perplexed marine biologists.
Stuck in the cold water of New York harbor, Ilya initially suffered cold stress, which can shut down manatees’ long digestive track and immune system. He lost about 100 of his 1,200 pounds, had low blood sugar and was having trouble digesting, Dr. Rodriguez says. A video (below) of the event shows him getting wrapped in mylar survival blankets and getting spritzed with water to keep moist.
Ilya is recuperating in a 82 degree saltwater pool at the Seaquarium with an orphaned, female, 18-month-old manatee picked up in the Everglades and named Glade. Normally Dr. Rodriguez would be reluctant to put such a big male in with her but Ilya has been very gentle. “He’s just a really docile manatee,” Dr. Rodriguez says.
Ilya is unusual among manatees, which normally handle food just with their prehensible lips, because he grabs with his flippers. “He’s all flippers,” says Dr. Rodriguez. Ilya, who touches noses with Glade, has even taught his new companion to pick up lettuce with flippers.
Since the water in Florida is still warm, Dr. Rodriguez will wait a bit to release him so he isn’t tempted to head north again. Manatees need to stay in Florida (often by the warm water of hot springs or power plant outflows) over the winter but migrate in all directions away in the summer. Ilya was caught on the third attempt near the outflow of the Conoco-Phillips in the Arthur Kill, which separates New Jersey from Staten Island.
Ilya kept coming back for the 75 degree water even though it was in a heavily industrialized area; the rest of the harbor was in the 50s. Plant workers kept a close eye out for him and alerted rescuers when he returned. The video shows the rescue workers lining up and splashing the water to goad him towards the giant net. A huge team of oil workers, volunteers from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, local EMT divers and federal wildlife agencies pitched in to save the endangered manatee.
Wanna see a manatee at one of the places they huddle to keep warm this winter? Try these hotspots.