At 10:30 am, Rita and Georgie arrived at the Great Harbour Cay Marina in Bullock’s Harbour on the Atlantis vessel Sea Keeper. High school students and interested locals had gathered at the marina for this exciting event. At 11:00 am, Dolphin Cay-Atlantis Animal Rescue Team carefully lowered Georgie into the water, and then Rita followed as quickly as possible. Both animals immediately paired up underwater and surfaced swimming towards the mangroves at the east end of the marina.
During the time of the release, two male manatees were observed in the marina and later paired up with the tagged animals. All four manatees were observed socialising as they slowly travelled out of the marina. Jim Reid (USGS) set up the VHF tracking gear and the tracking team started to track Rita and Georgie from land.
After a few detours through the bush, we found all four animals at the northern end of the T-canal; which is a ‘T’ shape cut in the harbour. We observed both males interacting with Rita while Georgie milled nearby. All four were seen feeding on algae on the canal wall. We left them at 4:30 PM.
In the early morning, the juvenile male was seen in the marina and came very close to one of our vessels. The single animal remained in the harbor for more than 3 hours. This was a great opportunity for Matt McCoy (Loggerhead Productions) to get underwater footage of the juvenile male, which will be used in an educational film about ‘Manatees in The Bahamas.’
Rita and Georgie were later found in the marina but Rita’s tag was missing! Jim successfully placed a temporary tag on Rita and the original tag was found and later reattached. Kendria Ferguson (BMMRO) made acoustic recordings of both animals, which will be used to identify individuals from their vocalisations.
Later Jim collected genetic samples from both the adult and juvenile males. These samples will be used to determine if these individuals are both offspring of Gina and help to develop a family tree of Great Harbour Cay manatees.
At 8:30 am GPS locations from the tags showed that Rita and Georgie were in Shark Creek along the west side of Great Harbour Cay, about 2 miles south of the harbour. When the tracking team arrived they found mother and calf both in good health and feeding on seagrass beds in the creek system.
With winds up to 20 knots the weather was not favorable for the tracking team to hit the open waters in search of Rita and Georgie so we decided to put up manatee warning signs. These signs were provided by Florida’s Save the Manatee Club, along with other educational material that will distribute throughout the island to raise awareness of the local population of manatees.
The tracking team was able to track them by land and both animals were found on the east side of the island swimming along the beach. The tracking team stayed with them for over 3 hours and monitored their breathing and movement patterns. We also got some underwater photos!!
At 10:40 am local residents of Great Harbour Cay notified the “manatee lady” (Kendria) that four manatees were in front of the marina office. Gina and her calf JJ
were both observed feeding on algae on the pilings and JJ was seen nursing occasionally. Both the adult male and juvenile male were there and remained close to Gina and JJ during their stay in the marina.
Jim was able to collect a genetic sample from JJ and also confirm that she is in fact a female calf. Both males continued to remain close and watched Jim constantly!
GPS locations from Rita and Georgie tags showed that they traveled as far south as Ambergris Cays. During the night, the tracking team closely monitored their movements as they were received via satellite. They entered Shark Creek shortly after 6pm from the west side of the island and remained there for approximately 5 hours. During this time, scientists believe that they were feeding and resting, as this area has extensive seagrass bed coverage. The tracking team continued to monitor their movements throughout the night and hoped that they turned to head back north very soon!
At 4:30am, GPS locations showed that Rita and Georgie took ‘the channel’ cut and headed back north into the harbour of Great Harbour Cay.
At 8am we located both mother and calf under Al’s dock (our local fish provider). Both animals were resting and Georgie was observed nursing. The tracking team obtained photos, videos and acoustic recordings of both animals during this 3.5 hour encounter.
From their departure from the harbour early Sunday morning to their return Monday morning, they managed to complete a 50 mile trip around Great Harbour. A very happy ending to a very long journey!
Rita and Georgie remained in the marina overnight and at 7:15am were found just a few houses down from the tag team’s home. Both animals swam towards our tracking vessel, “Feresa” and remained in the area for 15 minutes. Georgie has quite the personality! She began sucking on Feresa’s inflatable tubes and eating the algae off another inflatable boat a few feet away.
Both animals remained very close and traveled under the docks towards the end of the marina towards the mangroves. The local residents occasionally report seeing Gina and the other manatees at these mangroves and believe there is a fresh water discharge. This is also very close to the area of Rita and Georgie’s initial release back into the wild.