Caring for a pregnant manatee is a new experience for Mystic Aquarium

Mystic — When a rescued manatee arrived at Mystic Aquarium from Cape Cod last Thursday, stranding coordinator Janelle Schuh went to McQuade's Marketplace across the street and bought all the lettuce and spinach the supermarket had in stock.

The next day she went to the Big Y across town and did the same thing, until her bulk orders from McQuade’s arrived.

Finding a source for the 85 pounds of greens the 800-pound female eats each day is just one of the new experiences aquarium staff members have had as they care for the first manatee in the facility’s 40-year-history.

“It’s always fun to work with a new species, especially one that is found so far away,” Schuh said about the endangered species native to the warm waters of Florida. “And it's always better when it’s a docile animal.”

During a routine medical exam Tuesday morning, an ultrasound revealed the manatee is three to four months pregnant. The gestation period for a manatee is about one year.

The manatee was rescued by the International Fund for Animal Welfare last Thursday in Falmouth, Mass. The group had been tracking the manatee and when water temperature dipped below the survivable level of 68 degrees, the group received an emergency permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to rescue and transport the manatee to the aquarium.

Once there, the marine mammal was placed in a pool at the John T. and Jane A. Wiederhold Foundation Veterinary and Animal Health Center, where the water was warmed to between 70 and 74 degree mimicking the 75-degree winter water temperature in the Florida waters where manatees live.

Manatees occasionally are spotted in New England waters in the summer, but they slowly head south before the water cools too much.

Schuh said this manatee was ducking into inlets along the way, possibly looking for food and warmer water and would not have made it back home on its own. She said the fact that the manatee is a female is especially important because the species is endangered.

Once the manatee arrived at the aquarium, it immediately began eating the greens placed in submerged plastic holders.

“She’s chowing down and doing very, very well,” Schuh said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the manatee was floated on its back in the shallow pool, occasionally rolling over and surfacing for air.

The plan now is to work with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Coast Guard to fly the manatee back to Florida once it is stable enough to transport. Once there, the manatee will undergo further rehabilitation and be released into the wild.

While the manatee is at the aquarium, which had to obtain an emergency permit to care for it, visitors will not be able to view the animal.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Mystic Aquarium President and CEO Stephen Coan said the pregnancy “further elevates the importance of this effort and the care she is receiving by our world-class team of professionals. For all of us it provides a boost to the conservation efforts of this incredible but endangered species.”

“We were really fortunate to find the manatee and rescue her before the water temperatures dropped,” added Katie Moore International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Animal Rescue Program Director. “Knowing that she is carrying a calf makes her survival even more important.”

j.wojtas@theday.com

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