Gentle Sea Cows Rescued

manatee - Malcolm Dennemark - 2-23-15

By Judy Berman

Manatees and hurricanes were among my first exposure to Florida.

This week, the plight of 19 manatees riveted the nation’s eyes on Satellite Beach, as rescuers tried to get them out of a storm drain they had retreated to in search of warm water.

As I watched the news, I thought back to my first encounter with the gentle sea cows.

It was 1999, and we’d moved to Florida just a few months before Hurricane Floyd was threatening to barrel down our way.

Unaware of how much of a problem the hurricane would pose, I decide to spend my day off at Palm Bay’s Turkey Creek Sanctuary.

I was alone in the then 107-acre sanctuary. No radio. No phone. I just wanted to get away from it all.

For 1 ½ hours, I sat on a bench in a covered bridge scanning the water for just one thing. Then, I saw the form of a golden-brown manatee just beneath the surface of the coffee-colored creek.

Once before, on a visit here with my husband, we heard what sounded like a whoosh through the mammal’s blow hole. It was coming from the creek below us where there was algae and leaves.

This time, it just glided by. Such a calming creature. It’s affectionately referred to as the “gentle sea cow.” The adults are 10 to 12 feet long, and weigh between 1,500 to 1,800 pounds.

So, when I heard that the manatees were in danger this week, I anxiously watched the news. There were 19 of them trapped in a storm drain. They’d gone into that spot in Satellite Beach in search of warm, fresh water.

manatee - rescue effort - Malcolm Dennemark - 2-23-15

When the temperatures dip below 50, Floridians crab about the bone-chilling cold. But it’s far more serious for the manatees.

If it stays cold too long, that poses a serious health threat to the manatees. Water temperatures in the lagoon were pegged as low as 56 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Manatees can’t tolerate water less than 68 degrees for a prolonged period of time,” according to a report in Florida Today, a Gannett publication, based in Melbourne, Florida.

Usually, the manatees hang out near warm water from power plants.

This time, they crowded into a storm drain. Their plight drew national media attention.

What seemed ominous at first had a happy ending.

It took a village – literally – to rescue all 19 manatees, thanks to the efforts of workers from Satellite Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, SeaWorld, police and fire crews.

The next time it’s cold, manatees will have to look elsewhere for warmth. That storm drain now has a new grate covering the opening to keep manatees from scooting in there for refuge from the cold.


Have you ever seen a manatee in real life? What wildlife have you seen up close and personal?

Video: Rescue workers trying to free 19 manatees stuck in a storm drain in Satellite Beach, Florida – Florida Today –


Photo: Rescuers free 19 manatees from a storm drain in Satellite Beach. Photo by Malcolm Denemark of “Florida Today,” a Gannett newspaper based in Melbourne, Florida.

Photo: SeaWorld, FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), and animal experts work with police, fire and public works in Satellite Beach to free the manatees. Photo by Malcolm Denemark of Florida Today.

Link: Florida Manatees – Basic Facts –

  1. So many sea cows get ripped and chopped up by propeller blades. It is so disturbing. They really like to eat lettuce and I always kept some on hand as they passed through the canal at which I lived which lead out to Biscayne Bay and then the ocean.

    1. You were lucky to see them so often, Carl. I have to drive about 15 miles to a park and hope that I’ll see them when I get there. Sometimes, I don’t.

      Boaters are trying to change a law in our area that mandates they slow their boats down in manatee areas. I hope the law stays.

    1. Beth … If a wildlife official hadn’t suggested they check on the manatees in places like storm drains, it might have been too late to help them. It was a happy outcome for all of us who care about the manatees. 😉

  2. Oh no! I’m not sure how I missed this story as I was actually in Florida last week. I am so happy to hear there was a happy ending. It was so cold last week that as we were driving past a bay area, all the little sea birds were huddled together in the tall grasses all puffed up. Probably thinking, like we were, is this Florida? Great post, Judy, I enjoyed learning more about these creatures.

    1. Barbara … Until we moved to Florida, I’d never heard of manatees. They do fascinate me and I’ve been closer to them when I was on a dock at another park. Yes, it’s way too cold for the birds, bees and mammals here in Florida – that includes many of the human animals. But I don’t dare complain about that to my northern friends who are battling winter’s wrath.. 😉

      1. Because you know there would be absolutely no sympathy for it, right? Everything being relative, I thought thirty-something degrees in Florida was bone-chilling but would seem like a warm-up here.

      2. You just know it, Barbara. I mean when we’re FREEZING down here in Florida in sub 50 degree weather, I hear nothing but shock and guffaws from my northern friends. Just no understanding of our plight at all. 😉

    1. Right, Kate. It’s not like the boaters don’t have the rest of the waterways to raise havoc in. I’ve seen them speeding and know that many just ignore the slow speed signs. Sad.

      It is heartwarming to know so many people helped, tried to help or just showed up at the manatee rescue because they were concerned. 😉

  3. I am so relieved that you told us about the happy ending, Judy. It was truly a special piece here, Judy. I had not heard about this story. I love the movie, “Big Miracle,” which is based on a true story, too. It is about a village and some others who help to get these whales out of trouble, by digging holes in the ice to allow them to come up to breathe. The story made both my Mom and I to weep. It is very nicely done, not given away too much since it is the little pieces that make it all come together.
    Anyway, the Turkey Creek sanctuary and nature preserve would be a calming place to visit. Such a nice way to share this and let us know about it, too.
    I was at a restaurant, one time with my family and there was a bay or alcove, where some manatees were restlessly gliding back and forth. I heard it was their mating season which normally they were very gentle and you would barely see the water ripple as they slid past. It was along the Gulf coast, but I was younger, my grandparents lived in Clearwater so were probably south of this area, where there were small coves… I remember the experience but not the location, Judy!

    1. Robin … I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when it all ended well. Turkey Creek Sanctuary is a wonderful place to walk about. We go there several times a year. How lovely that you got to see manatees while dining. They are beautiful.

      I never saw “Big Miracle,” but I love the premise. Thank you for sharing. 😉

  4. I had seen the story, but not the end result. I’m glad they are safe. I’ve never seen manatees in real life. There are lots of wild creatures here, but nothing like that–we have lots of deer and turkeys here. 🙂

    1. Merril … When I lived in the country, deer would come out of the woods and drink water from the creek on our property. I loved seeing them – except when I’m driving and they are near the edge of the road or dart into the road.

      With manatees, that’s not an issue. 😉

  5. I’m so glad this story has a happy ending Judy. < 3 I have never seen one in person, I had no idea they were so big! They are the Mermaids of folklore, are they not?
    Diana xo

  6. Hi Yes the sea cows are amazing being so big and yes they are graceful. I’ve seen them down in Edgewater often and a dear friend lives down there now along with friends and family in Clearwater. Though seen less often I guess there . I’ll have to check with another in Melbourne. I love to hear goodnews stories! There are never enough of those nowadays … ‘cept maybe in ‘Grit’

    Great post Judy and hoping everyone is well

    1. Thanks for the ‘Grit’ source, Rick. Yes, manatees are fascinating. Though they might be happier right now in warmer parts of Florida.

      We’re doing well and hope you are, too. 😉

  7. When I heard this story on the news this week, it made me smile when there was a happy ending. Honestly, your storytelling was much better than ABC News, Judy. 🙂 Such beautiful creatures.

  8. I took a partial news fast this week, so thanks for bringing me up to date with this story. In Jacksonville, years ago manatees became a sort of mascot for the city and painted forms (some whimsical) still be seen all around town reminding us of this precious resource.

    1. We also have a minor league baseball team here called the Manatees, so it sometimes gets a little confusing. Their mascot is, of course, a walking costumed manatee. 😉

      The gentle sea cows are a treasure.

  9. I was eleven when I saw my first manatees, and then for y 12th birthday my aunt sent me a set of blank cards of manatees. I carefully used them only for very special people and the set lasted until 2004! This was a wonderful post, Judy, and it floods me with memories.

  10. Isn’t it great when a community pulls together like this and the outcome is a happy one. There should be more news items like this, the world in general might be a happier place.

    1. Jenny … I agree. It was a nail biter as I watched the story unfold and I was so happy that the manatees were rescued and safe. If we all treated one another the same way, what a wonderful world it would be. 😉

  11. Thanks for posting about the gentle sea cows, Judy. I saw the several tens of seconds they offered the rescue on the nightly news and was glad for their safety.

    In the early 1990s, I was visiting a friend who had a little house on a channel on a small key a couple up from Key West. I was sitting quietly enjoying being free from the Syracuse winter after dinner, scanning the water, when I saw my first manatee, then my first dozen, swimming right up to where I was sitting. I jumped up and ran into their house to ask about the sea monsters! They laughed and explained all about the docile, warm-water creatures. They’re not very pretty, but they sure were friendly to me that day.

    1. It was all over the news, Mark, and I’m glad the outcome was a good one for all concerned.

      I was probably forewarned what a manatee was, so I just took their presence in stride. I’ve seen them up close from a dock. Cool. One correction: They are pretty … at least to other manatees. 😉

  12. Where we now live in West Wales (U.K.) we live a couple of miles from the coast . We have seen Dolphins playing in the ocean and encouraging their young and we see seals basking on the rocks when we go out on our dingy …it’s amazing .
    I have never heard of manatees …I don’t know if we get them here in the U.K
    Such amazing creatures aren’t they Judy .

    1. Cherry … I’ve seen seals basking on a pier in San Francisco and dolphins leaping in the ocean near where I live. They are beautiful.

      In the Pacific Ocean, they are called dugong. They are the manatee’s cousin. Something I didn’t know until I was researching for this story. They are amazing. 😉

  13. It is always heartwarming to see people work hard to save animals. I have never seen a manatee in the wild or otherwise. I have seen dolphins and the Big Five in the wild among others, though.

    1. OK, Zambian Lady, what is the Big Five. Elephant and lion, I’m guessing. Rhino? Hippopotamus? What are they? And, how lucky you were to have seen them in the wild.

      I love a happy ending, too. Everyone worked very hard to rescue the manatees. 😉

  14. In today’s day and age of media focused negativity- terrorism, climate change, man made disasters and so on, this is such a heart warming and positive story. Almost like a modern day fairy tale with the Manatees ‘living happily ever after’.

    Thank you for sharing Judy.


    1. I love a feel-good story, too, Shakti. When those workers were done and all the manatees were saved, well you might have heard my loud ‘hoorah’ across the pond. Thanks for writing, Shakti. It’s a pleasure hearing from you. 😉

  15. I’m so glad the ending was a good one. Bless their hearts, I think many of us are searching for warm weather. The wind chill is 11 and falling. It’s a solid rhythm of sleet and freezing rain falling down. The snow arrives soon.

    1. When I lived in Central New York, after a long winter, 50 degrees was shorts weather. Now that I live in Florida, that’s a chilly temp. So I really feel for the animals, birds, etc. who have to search for a warm spot until the sun throws its warm rays our way. 😉

  16. Nineteen stuck in a storm drain?! That must have been very crowded!!! 😯 Poor things! I have heard of Manatees before but not of storm drains – haha, I don’t think we have such a thing in Britain! Although having said that, some areas could probably do with one – we do have some terrible floods in some areas especially when there’s been a long dry patch in the summer and a weeks rain arrives all at once!!

    They do sound like gentle things indeed, but why sea cows? They look closer to a seal or a hippopotamus or a small whale. I’m glad it had a happy ending, I hope they are back joyfully swimming! 🙂

      1. Thanks for that, yes like slow cows, that makes sense. I love the apparent smile on the face of that one. Probably an illusion, but it looks cute! 😉

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