8 manatees, weighing a combined 6,000 pounds, flown to Florida for final rehab steps before release

ORLANDO, Fla. — What does it take to fly eight manatees, weighing a combined 6,000 pounds, more than 1,000 miles across the country?

Intricate planning and custom-built containers, according to SeaWorld Orlando officials.


Officials said the sea cows were placed in the containers and driven to the Cincinnati International Airport before being loaded onto a specially scheduled DHL cargo plane headed to Florida.

SeaWorld officials said the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, ZooTampa at Lowry Park and SeaWorld Orlando have partnered for several years to rehabilitate the eight orphaned manatees.

Photos: 8 manatees, weighing a combined 6,000 pounds, flown to Florida

“A close collaboration among the zoological community, where we transfer stable rehabilitating animals between facilities, is important to free up critical care space and ensure that together we save as many manatees as we can,” said Dr. Joseph Gaspard, vice president of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando.

Officials said a Cincinnati Zoo staff veterinarian and Columbus Zoo Animal Care curator monitored the manatees’ condition throughout the flight.

Read: ‘Don’t call us’: Mating manatees cause flurry of 911 calls

During the flight, the manatee’s containers were secured on palettes attached to the plane floor for stability. Officials said the manatees rested on an 8-inch-thick bed of foam and were covered in wool and space blankets to maintain a healthy body temperature. To keep their bodies moist, the animals were misted with water under their blankets throughout the flight.

“Moving manatees is an extremely complex process that involves significant planning and logistics to ensure that each specific need is met throughout the journey,” said Cain Moodie, SVP Network Operations, DHL Express Americas. “We are thrilled to play a key role in this initiative to support endangered manatees in the wild, leveraging our team’s expertise to ensure each animal is transported as quickly and safely as possible.”

Read: Crews rescue injured manatee found in Florida storm drain

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.

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