|This belt on the "peduncle," above Mr. Magoo’s uniquely identifying tail, attaches to a flexible tether, to which the transmitter is attached. The top of the transmitter and antenna floated at the surface (shown in photo below), which allowed researchers to receive his "signal" and follow his movements. USGS, Sirenia Project photograph.|
|Dr. Tom O’Shea and Mr. Magoo, December 1988, about 6 months after Mr. Magoo’s release. Photograph by R.K. Bonde, USGS, Sirenia Project.|
By Thomas J. O'Shea1
I can remember one little story. We had just started radio-tracking manatees on the east coast of Florida and were working with Sea World. They would take injured manatees into captivity and try to rehabilitate them for return to the wild. But most were not re-released—they were so injured, and it was not known how they would fare after long periods in captivity. Prior to that time there had not been long-term tracking or follow-up using telemetry to determine the fates of rehabilitated manatees after release. However, our group had just recently perfected a floating tether assembly that allowed tracking of manatees in salt water (radio signals don’t travel through salt water).
Since we were already tracking wild animals in sea water, we agreed to track one of Sea World’s manatees that was planned for release after a very lengthy period in captive care. Sea World nick-named him Mr. Magoo. He was released at our study site on the Atlantic coast near where he’d been brought in for rehabilitation. No one knew if he would move when cold weather came—which manatees must do, they cannot tolerate winter temperatures in northern and central Florida—because he had been in captivity since he was young. Then we had an early cold front come through. The wild manatees were all moving to warmer areas, but Mr. Magoo was still in the same place. We thought, "Oh no, he’s not going to know to migrate," and we kept getting signals from the one area. We went to the last place we got signals from him, a deep lagoon, and there was nothing. I was afraid he’d died and was lying on the bottom.
An aerial survey was being carried out by other workers shortly thereafter, and they took some radio receiving equipment along. They picked up Mr. Magoo’s signal, maybe 90 kilometers to the south. And that was a really good feeling! That no, he wasn’t dead, and he had it in him to move south in the cold weather.
So I drove down soon after to find where the signal was coming from. And it was coming from a tidal area in the lower reaches of the Sebastian River. I got a visual confirmation that it was Mr. Magoo, and realized that he was not alone: many other manatees were there. We hadn’t realized until then that this area was an important migratory stopover for manatees. I went back to the office and got on the phone with the Florida Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and followed this up with maps and supporting data. Those resource managers acted fast when they heard how important this area was during manatee migration: the area was designated as a slow zone for boating, similar protection was added at the nearby Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the State of Florida moved the area around the Sebastian River up in priority status for acquisition as a reserve—all thanks to Mr. Magoo!