Not a manatee is in sight at South Florida Museum. Don’t fret — they’ll be back.
The museum has temporarily drained and closed its 66,000-gallon manatee rehabilitation aquarium to conduct planned maintenance projects. The work, which is expected to be completed by mid-March, will include buffing and resealing the windows looking into the aquarium, painting and refinishing the walls and fiberglass surfaces.
“It’s mainly routine type maintenance, with any facility like this,” said Jessica Schubick, the museum’s spokeswoman.
Its three aquatic residents have already been transferred to SeaWorld in Orlando. Lagoona, who had been recovering at the museum since November after a boat collision months prior, was transported back in January because her wounds required more care than the staff could provide.
South Florida Museum has been a Stage 2 manatee rehabilitation facility for the past 20 years, where manatees come right before they’re ready to be released back into the wild. They can stay at the aquarium from a couple of months to more than a year.
Gale and Baca, the two remaining manatees at the aquarium that had been rehabilitating since May, were transported to SeaWorld on Monday, Schubick said. Gale, at 8 feet long and 735 pounds, will be released near Melbourne in early March. She grew more than twice her weight after being rescued in 2016 with her mother Tsunami, who did not survive from cold stress syndrome and severe injuries. But Baca is too little to be released, weighing in at 475 pounds.
“The move to SeaWorld went very well and they both started eating as soon as they arrived,” said aquarium director Virginia Edmonds in a press release. “That’s always a good sign.”
It’s possible that Baca will return to Bradenton to continue his rehabilitation. The museum works with the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership to make the decision. Schubick added that many manatees statewide are recovering from red tide or cold stress syndrome, so the need is there.
“Either way, we’ll definitely have more than one manatee,” she said.
The maintenance has nothing to do with loose panels associated with Snooty the manatee’s death last July, after he became stuck in an underwater life support area. Schubick said they corrected that issue immediately and it was approved by aquatic engineers.
“Everything is very safe and secure, as far as that goes,” she said.
Because of the short-term closure, the museum has lowered admission prices by $6. Temporary admission for adults will be $13; $11 for seniors aged 65 and above; $8 for children between 4 and 12; and free for children 3 and under with a paying adult.