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8 manatees leave Ohio to prepare for a return to the wild while 5 more arrive

people carry a large tarp containing a manatee to the edge of a shipping truck.
Zoo Tampa
Zoo Tampa employees prepare to unload a newly arrived manatee to prepare it for return to the Florida waters.

Three manatees from the Cincinnati Zoo are back in Florida this week preparing to return to the wild. "Soleil," "Calliope," and "Piccolina" arrived in Cincinnati in November 2022 after being orphaned.

They spent a year prior to Cincinnati undergoing critical care at Zoo Tampa. They've now returned to Zoo Tampa to get acclimated prior to return to the wild.

RELATED: 3 orphaned manatees arrive at Cincinnati Zoo for rehabilitation

Five other manatees also made the trip from Ohio to Florida. They were undergoing rehabilitation at the Columbus Zoo and will now be housed at SeaWorld Orlando. This marks the largest number of manatees moved at one time from the Columbus Zoo.

The Cincinnati and Columbus zoos are part of a handful of facilities outside Florida with manatee rehabilitation programs through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP).

manatee on a wooden deck
Zoo Tampa
A manatee arrives at Zoo Tampa to prepare for return to the wild.

"Manatees are a critical part of our aquatic ecosystems, and we've been honored to be involved in their rescue, rehabilitation, and return for 47 years, working alongside our partners, including the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership, to help preserve these beloved Florida icons," said Joseph Gaspard, vice president of zoological operations at SeaWorld Orlando in a release.

"We have the capacity to care for up to 60 manatees in need at a time in our critical care facility in Orlando, which is one of only a few in the U.S. for the treatment of marine animals. A close collaboration among the zoological community, where we transfer stable, rehabilitating animals between facilities, is important to free up critical care space and ensure that together we save as many manatees as we can."

The manatees were flown by DHL Express in custom-built containers. They were accompanied by staff and a veterinarian.

RELATED: Commissioners send zoo levy to the ballot without a recommended tax increase

While eight manatees returned to Florida, five more came to Ohio for rehabilitation. Three females are being acclimated at the Cincinnati Zoo and two males are being cared for in Columbus.

side profile of a manatee on a wooden deck
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
A manatee named "Nolia" is one of three now in Cincinnati for continue rehabilitation.

"As a second-stage rehab facility, we give manatees individual care for several months, including providing plenty of food and veterinary care, until they’re big and strong enough to go home," said Kim Scott, curator of mammals at Cincinnati Zoo. "We may be far from Florida waters, but we love caring for these remarkable animals."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.