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After seven months at a rehabilitation facility at Sea World Orlando, Bolt, an injured manatee captured at Fanning Springs earlier in the year, was released back into the wild Thursday morning.
"It's always a great feeling. It's what our program is all about," said Steve Lehr, manager of animal care at Sea World. "It's heart warming."
Lehr was just one of a dozen people from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Park Services and Sea World and U.S. Fish and Wildlife rescue teams to help carry Bolt by stretcher into the Suwannee River at the Joe Anderson Boat Ramp, in Old Town.
Despite Bolt rolling "around in the back of the truck a bit," Lehr said the drive up from Orlando, about 2 1/2 hours, went smoothly. The rescue team kept the manatee moist with misters.
Bolt, a 1,135 pound adult male manatee so named because of the scar patterns on his back, was captured Feb. 22 after concerned citizens and park staff from Fanning and Manatee springs state parks noticed he had several fresh propeller wounds on his back and was breathing erratically.
Sea World representatives said in March that Bolt, about a month after his rescue, had been taken off his feeding tube and was no longer on medications, though it would take another six months for the mammal to recover from the propeller wounds on his back and the six broken ribs that happened as a result of being struck by a boat the day before his rescue.
Lehr said Thursday that bolt had gained about 200 pounds at the rehabilitation facility, which has rehabilitated more than 400 manatees since 1976. Lehr said Sea World has helped about 15 manatees so far this year, though, he added, he's seen years where as many as 50 manatees needed to be rehabilitated.
Injuries from watercraft and cold stress are the two biggest killers of the Florida manatee. At last count since the beginning of the year, 300 manatees have died in the state, according the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Seventy-three of those deaths are attributed to watercraft—two from Levy and Gilchrist counties. Four-hundred-fifty-three manatees died in 2011, 88 of them being from boat collissions.
See earlier articles about Bolt at: