A manatee capture, health assessment and tagging project led by the U.S Geological Survey used OUC’s secured Indian River Plant (background) intake canal to stage a four-day operation in December. 

Researchers perform a health assessment on a captured sub-adult male manatee.
Found to be underweight but not in imminent danger of starvation, he was returned to the Indian River Lagoon.

Watch OUC-produced video of manatee capture-and-tagging project


Using the intake canal at OUC’s Indian River power plant as its staging site, a group of researchers from federal and state agencies and marine mammal rescue organizations conducted a four-day (Dec. 14-17, 2021) operation to capture and tag manatees with devices that track their movements and document their use of coastal habitats. The group tagged five manatees and performed health assessments on them as well as two others deemed too small to fit with radio-telemetry tags. Another captured manatee was transported to SeaWorld Orlando for care after team members discovered pre-existing lacerations on its belly and back.

The team included personnel from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), SeaWorld Orlando, Brevard Zoo, Volusia County and the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine. About 30 specialists, including an USFWS pilot flying a spotter plane with an FWC observer, worked together on the capture and tagging project.

Radio-telemetry tags

Brevard County’s portion of the 156-mile Indian River Lagoon is a failing manatee habitat because of massive seagrass depletion caused by algal blooms linked to high nutrient loads. If manatees are unable to find sufficient forage along the Space Coast, they may travel up and down Florida’s Atlantic Coast looking for beds of seagrass or succumb to lack of nourishment in the lagoon.

Dan Slone (above), USGS Research Ecologist, and other members of the tagging effort want to know where manatees are swimming off to when they search for food.

“They’re moving to find healthy environments,” he said, “And the [radio-telemetry tags] will tell us where they go to find resources.”

2021 has been an especially devastating year for the Florida manatee, which is listed under federal protections as a “threatened species.” Nearly twice as many have died ─ 1,083 as of Dec. 24 ─ than last year, with Brevard leading all counties in manatee mortality with 353.

The intake canal at OUC’s Indian River Plant was the site of a manatee rescue in late September. Nicknamed “Matthew,” the undernourished manatee remains in SeaWorld’s care. OUC provides manatee conservation groups access to the canal’s boat launch so they can conduct rescues or research operations.

“We appreciate the cooperation of OUC in letting us perform our research project,” said Slone

Members of the Manatee Research Project use a net to corral a manatee in the OUC Indian River Plant’s intake canal. The manatee was brought ashore for a health assessment, then returned to the canal (below).