APOLLO BEACH -- Rescuers found Myakklemore the manatee suffering from cold stress two years ago in the Myakka River, weighing only 216 pounds. When he was released Friday at the Big Bend Power Station here, he weighed 795 pounds.
Manatees suffer cold stress in water colder than 68 degrees and begin exhibiting symptoms similar to frost bite. After three months of critical care at the Lowry Park Zoo, Myakklemore came to Bradenton in April 2014. The manatee has been in rehabilitation since at the South Florida Museum -- the home of Snooty, the oldest living manatee in captivity.
When he arrived, Myakklemore weighed 270 pounds. At an August 2014 check up, he weighed 380 pounds, which means he wouldn't be big enough to be released in the winter of 2014-15. Marilyn Margold, director of living collections and co-chair of the manatee rescue and rehabilitation partnership, said releasing rehabilitated manatees in the winter is important, particularly if they had to be rescued due to cold stress.
"Next winter, hopefully he'll find his way right up here. That's why it's important that we do winter releases with cold stress animals," Margold said. "He's got several hundred other animals that he can hang out with and learn from, in case he didn't learn everything he needed to learn from his mother."
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So Myakklemore stayed another year to gain weight, and clocked in at 790 pounds and nearly 9 feet long in November 2015. Generally speaking, manatees must weigh about 600 pounds and at least 7-feet 8-inches to be released.
But Myakklemore almost acted like he didn't want to go yet on Friday morning, giving the dozen people who lifted him from the truck and carried him down to the water some trouble.
"He's pretty feisty, but overall it went very smoothly," Margold said.
Hundreds of people came out to watch Myakklemore's release, including kindergarten students from Winthrop Charter School in Riverview, who got to gently pat the manatee before he was placed in the water.
"He stinks!" one boy shouted, grinning and putting his hand over his nose.
Once Myakklemore got to the water, he hung around volunteers for a little longer before slowly swimming away. Hundreds of manatees gather at the power station in the winter to stay warm, and several in the area splashed the surface as Myakklemore entered the water.
Officials will continue to track Myakklemore and make sure he is adjusting to life back in the wild. The biggest concern is since he suffered cold stress after not knowing where to go in the winter, he won't learn from other manatees and will get stuck again.
Margold said it is always bittersweet to see rehabilitated manatees go back to the wild.
"He's out in the water now, and he's happy to be with other animals, so we're happy to see him go," Margold said. "It's kind of like sending your child off to kindergarten."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter@KateIrby