Ice Cube was plucked from Charlotte Harbor in January 2015 in a condition likened to his namesake — the manatee was afflicted with cold stress syndrome and weighed a meager 205 pounds. After two years of care, gaining 610 pounds and being one of Snooty’s roommates, he was returned back to the wild earlier this week.
Ice Cube spent the first six months of his care at Lowry Park Zoo and the remaining 20 months at South Florida Museum.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Sea to Shore Alliance released the manatee to Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center at the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach. Manatees are attracted to the power station’s saltwater discharge, which Tampa Electric says is clean and warm, because staying in water below 68 degrees can be deadly for the marine mammal.
A group of 40 manatees were there to greet him, and even the day before Ice Cube’s release, the manatee named Sarasolo, who was returned and tagged in February after living with Ice Cube and Snooty for 18 months, was tracked roaming around the power station.
But Snooty, longtime resident of the South Florida Museum and the world-record holder for oldest manatee in captivity at age 68, doesn’t appear to be sad about extra room in his pool at the museum.
“He’s been a solitary manatee for a lot of his history,” said Jessica Schubick, communications manager for the museum.
In 1998, South Florida Museum began its manatee rehabilitation program, but Snooty had already lived a half-century by himself. Since he was born in captivity, he won’t be released into the wild but becomes acquainted with other manatees through the program.
Schubick added that wild manatees are deemed “semi-social” and that they don’t form long bonds, just sticking with their mothers for one to two years to learn where to find food and warm water.
“When he goes back to having his pool all to himself, as we say, he generally doesn’t exhibit any signs of stress that we can see,” she said. “He’s more attached to people than other manatees.”
Like Sarasolo and five other manatees, Ice Cube was fitted with a tag to track his movements through the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership, which can be viewed at www.manateerescue.org.
The museum plans on taking in more manatees for rehabilitation at a later date.