Manatees airlifted to Ohio in effort to help preserve species

Organizations estimate there are just over 6,000 manatees left in Florida.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Four Florida manatees now have a new temporary home at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in an effort to help on the strain of resources in the Sunshine State as agencies continue to deal with a record die-off.

DHL Express transported the injured juvenile manatees on a plane in custom-built containers from the warm and sunny Orlando to the Buckeye State. 

The Columbus facility is one of only five critical care facilities in the United States for the giant mammals.

"Transporting animals is a precise process where everything must be executed flawlessly," Jon Peterson, VP of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando, said in a statement.


The move will help free space at SeaWorld’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, at a time which experts say is critical for the animal’s future.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported more than 1,100 manatees died in 2021, nearly double the yearly average.

Experts blame the record die-off on the disappearance of seagrass, the primary food source for the animal.

"Some of the seagrasses are dying due to algae blooms, and so what we are seeing in the wild is just complete deserts where manatees usually go to eat in the wintertime," Becky Ellsworth, curator of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Shores & Aquarium region, said during on FOX Weather.

In an attempt to combat the issue of starvation, Florida biologists are the midst of a trial program to feed the manatees in their native habits.

Specialists are feeding the animals foods such as cabbage and lettuce, in a similar technique found at zoos and critical care centers.

"Our nine manatees are currently eating about 500 pounds of lettuce a day, and they eat it that all day long. Romaine lettuce is nutritionally equivalent to the seagrasses that they would eat in the wild," said Ellsworth.

The four manatees named Lizzo, Cardi-Tee, MaryKate and Ashley will remain in the care of specialists until the animals are healthy enough to be transported back to Florida and released back into their native habitat.