Young Manatee Rescued From Underground Pump Station Is Released Back Into Fort Lauderdale Waterways Off George English Park
Piper the manatee, who was rescued from an underground pump station along Fort Lauderdale's New River in May, has finally been returned to her aquatic home.
The now-healthy female manatee was released into the waters off George English Park around noon Wednesday (after a short delay in her arrival thanks to I-95 traffic).
Piper's rescuers and rehabilitators—Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife, and Miami Seaquarium crews—were all present at the event.
They named the manatee Piper "because she came in through the pipes," Fort Lauderdale Fire Public Information Officer Greg May explained.
When city workers discovered the female manatee stuck inside a pump station near the New River on May 12, they called in Florida Fish and Wildlife to save her. At the time, the 7-foot manatee was underweight at 300 pounds, scarred with wounds and stuck in a dangerously confined space. Florida Fish and Wildlife crews were not qualified to make the below-ground rescue.
That's where Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue came in.
Chad Robertson, part of Fort Lauderdale Fire's Technical Rescue team, recalled expecting the rescue to be easy, since manatees are docile animals. However, the deep waters and Piper's injuries made for a challenge.
"She was very injured … and started going crazy," he said.
The fire rescue crew ultimately had to lift the juvenile manatee up about 15 to 20 feet to ground level.
"They had to actually physically wrestle this manatee to put it in a manatee harness," May said.
Piper spent about five months being nursed back to health at Miami Seaquarium. She was treated with antibiotics, and staff took care of her wounds.
Seaquarium curator Robert Rose said that, though she had gashes and was underweight, Piper's prognosis was excellent from the start.
"It was a young animal that really just got lost," he said.
Five months and 200 additional pounds later, the veterinarian cleared Piper for release.
"Now she's a fat manatee," May quipped.
Crews selected George English Park for Piper's release because it's an area that was familiar to the young manatee. According to Amber Howell, a research associate for Florida Fish and Wildlife, Piper had been spotted there through the manatee photo-identification program. There's also less boat traffic around George English Park than in the downtown Fort Lauderdale area where Piper was rescued, she added.
In addition to the three groups responsible for saving Piper, a few others turned out to watch the manatee's release, including representatives from the Sea Turtle Oversight Protection organization and Robertson's daughter, Kylie.
"My daughter's been asking about her every day," Robertson said. "I pulled her out of school to come watch."
Follow Piper's release, from Seaquarium rescue truck to Fort Lauderdale waterways, in the photos below: