LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Feb. 24, 2009 — Marine mammal experts from Walt Disney World Resort returned a manatee to its natural habitat today in the warm waters of the St. John’s River at Blue Springs State Park near Orange City. Approximately 3,800 endangered manatees exist in Florida.
The manatee, named “Bock,” was rescued as an orphan from the St. John’s River in 2001 as part of a manatee rehabilitation program managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He arrived at The Seas with Nemo and Friends at Epcot in 2003 weighing about 500 pounds. At The Seas, marine mammal experts weaned him from the bottle and began feeding him a diet of romaine lettuce, fruits and other vegetables. After extended treatment and therapy, he now weighs more than 1,000 pounds and is approximately eight years old.
Bock’s release is timed to coincide with the arrival of several other manatees currently wintering at Blue Springs. During the next few months, he will be able to swim with other manatees, learn appropriate behaviors and hopefully return to Blue Springs again in search of warmer water.
Bock will be fitted with a satellite tracking belt to follow his movements and allow for behavioral observation after his release. His progress will be monitored by the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) in which Disney’s Animal Programs has been involved since 2001 when the MRP was established. The MRP is a cooperative group of nonprofit, private, state and federal entities that monitors the health and survival of rehabilitated and released manatees.
While the care associated with manatee rehabilitation at The Seas with Nemo and Friends was provided by Disney, Epcot guests have also helped other manatees in the wild by supporting the company-matched Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund (DWCF). The DWCF has contributed more than $348,000 for manatee research and awareness around the globe. Since its inception in 1995, the DWCF has supported manatee research and community conservation in countries including the United States, Belize, Guatemala and Gabon, and worked with organizations including Mote Marine Laboratory, University of Florida and the Wildlife Trust.