Return to Crystal River: Celebrating the Release of 3 Rescued Manatees

Posted February 15, 2024 by Angela Hatke

Orphaned manatees Calliope, Piccolina & Soleil were rescued in 2021 and lived at the Cincinnati Zoo for about a year for rehabilitation. Since they hit their goal weight of at least 6oo pounds, they were finally ready to be released back into Florida waters this week!

The three orphaned manatees were rescued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) from different areas of southwest Florida in the spring and summer of 2021. The girls were quite small when they were rescued. Soleil weighed 53lbs, Calliope 62 lbs and Piccolina (“little one” in Italian) was the smallest at 44lbs. 

All three required bottle feeding and intensive care for several months. When they arrived at the Cincinnati Zoo they each weighed over 350lbs but needed to hit that 600 pound milestone to be considered for release back into the wild. 

The Cincinnati Zoo’s job as a second-stage rehabilitation facility is to provide plenty of food, primarily lettuce, and veterinary care until the manatees are big and strong enough to return to their native Florida waters!

The Cincinnati Zoo is proud to be a part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP). We are one of only a handful of places outside of Florida where people can see manatees and learn more about what can be done to protect them.

As the Florida manatee population continues to struggle with watercraft injuries, severe weather, red tide, and the UME (unusual mortality event) due to a decline in food availability along the Atlantic coast that started in 2020, many young manatees become orphans and in need of human assistance. That’s why the MRP was established and remains critical to the survival of this charismatic species. 

Track the manatees!

3 manatees swimming and eating lettuce

Currently the Cincinnati Zoo is caring for orphaned manatees Waffles, Nolia and Amethyst.


Photos from Calliope, Piccolina & Soleil’s release at Crystal River, Florida with keepers Remy & Tara.