Officials: "Intense hunt" for Memphis manatee has concluded

Friday Afternoon Update:

Officials announced Friday afternoon that they were calling off their "intense hunt" for the manatee that was spotted earlier this week in Wolf River Harbor.

The manatee, a large aquatic animal usually found in Florida, was the subject of an large search Thursday and Friday conducted by crews from the Memphis Police Department, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Sea World.

After sweeping the harbor and surrounding bodies of water with equipment that included a sonar-equipped boat and a Memphis Police Department helicopter equipped with a heat-sensing camera, officials concluded that the manatee was no longer in the area.

Harbor patrol officials will continue to look for the animal in the coming days, even as the official search concludes.  Officials asked that, if person thinks they have sighted the manatee, they contact authorities immediately, and keep the animal in their sight until visual confirmation can be made by the proper authorities.

When asked, a TWRA official said it could be considered a "good thing" that the animal had not been found, saying that it could mean the animal has began migrating south towards warmer waters.

Friday Early Afternoon Update:

There were moments of high drama early Friday afternoon when word of a manatee sighting came during a press conference, while officials announced they were giving up their search.

For the next several moments, rescue boats raced to the location of the alleged sighting in the Wolf River.  Soon after, officials confirmed that the sighting was a false alarm.

Friday Morning 8:00am Update:

Biologists and game officials will resume searching today for a wayward manatee in Memphis they hope to transfer to Florida.

The rescue team, made up of marine biologists, wildlife agents, police officers and Coast Guard personnel, failed to locate it yesterday in the three-mile chute, called the Wolf River Harbor.

Searchers spotted the manatee Wednesday afternoon, but weren't yet in position to capture it.

Officials plan to search again near a steam plant about 12 river miles south of Memphis on McKellar Lake, a Mississippi backwater.

Pedro Ramos, a search team leader from SeaWorld Adventure Park, said the warm-water mammal's instinct would be to head south looking for warmer water.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist Nicole Adiemy said the manatee will be taken to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, before being released.

Thursday Night Wrap-up:

There were  3 days of awe-inspiring appearances.  But today, nothing.  Not one sighting of the Memphis manatee.

Nicole Adimey says, "Could we have missed it, absolutely, no telling."

Adimey heads up Manatee Rescue for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Action News Five caught up with her at Memphis International Airport on her way back to Florida.

Adimey continues, "Unfortunately there's only so much time you can spend looking out there."

Adimey says she got the rescue ball rolling as soon as she was notified Monday.

"I called Sea World on Monday night, I said standby if that animal's there on Tuesday let's organize a rescue," continues Adimey.

The manatee was there on Tuesday and Wednesday and was even hanging around Wednesday night when the Sea World crew showed up.

Adimey continues, "It wasn't in a safe place last night to do a rescue so we were hoping it would move out like it's been doing every day, unfortunately it moved out too far."

So with the manatee missing, what appeared to be a smart safety decision yesterday, looks like a missed opportunity today, with some wondering if the whole rescue process took too long to get started in the first place.

Adimey says, "It happened very quickly on our end and people don't realize the planning and logistics something.  So even though it seemed like a long time to folks here we were really moving at a quick pace."

But Manny, the manatee apparently moved quicker.

Thursday 5:00pm update:

Rescuers have called off the search for today, vowing to return for another sweep tomorrow.  A sonar image led them to believe they'd located the marine mammal at one point, about 500 yards from the Coast Guard station, but upon returning to the location, the image was gone.

They say they believe the manatee is in fine health, although it appeared to be slightly underweight.  They do not believe waiting a day will have any adverse impact on the manatee's survival chances.

A Sea World official also pointed out that it's possible the Manatee has left the area.

They will continue to search through the weekend, if necessary.

Thursday 4:00pm update:

A rescue team from SeaWorld, along officials from the Department of U.S Fish and Wildlife, and Florida Fish and Game, spent most of Thursday in Wolf River Harbor searching for a wayward manatee.  The animal, dubbed "Manny" by onlookers, had been spotted various times since Sunday.  Though the search was hampered at times by foul weather Thursday, experts said it was not yet time to worry about the animal's condition.

Onlookers James Jackson and Andre Peeples were the first to meet the animal Sunday morning in Wolf River Harbor.  The pair has spent the past several days paying attention to the animal's progress as a rescue attempt was set in gear.  Thursday, the manatee was nowhere to be found.

"Ever since the boats have been out, it seems like its gotten afraid," Jackson said.  "It doesn't come up and do the rolls anymore."
The rescue team from SeaWorld enlisted the help of helicopters to try tospot the mammal from the air, without any luck.  But Pedro Ramos, the Sea World official leading the rescue mission, said he discouraged.  "We've been out on rescues where we certainly don't find the manatee for a while, so it's not uncommon," he said. "All you can do is keep trying."

Ramos said a manatee has never been spotted this far up the Mississippi, and the the water temperature remains a concern in the manatee's health, especially since rain was pushing water levels up.  Still, Ramos said there was hope.  "We have seen animals in Florida that have survived in 50 degree for quite a while."

Late Thursday afternoon, Dr. Nicole Adimey of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife said after seeing video of the manatee from Wednesday, she was confident the animal could survive for a few more days, even if the water got cooler.

Thursday 12:00pm Update:

Rescuers continue to look for signs of the manatee that has occupied Wolf River Harbor since it was first spotted Monday afternoon.  Just before noon, the Sea World team returned to the shore without the animal.

Chopper 5 was over the river this morning as a team from Sea World searched for the aquatic mammal.  Team members were called Tuesday, and left Wednesday morning from Orlando for Memphis.

So far in 2006, Sea World has rescued 27 manatees.  Company officials say the cost for each manatee rescue is between $20,000 and $30,000, paid for by Sea World park admissions and money from the state of Florida.  Members of the team attempting to rescue the Memphis manatee said the work is rewarding, but dangerous.

"By nature, it is a somewhat risky job, because we are dealing with very large animals in an uncontrolled environment," said Pedro Ramos, a member of the SeaWorld team.  "Anything is possible, but we have an experienced team.  We look after each other."

Ramos said the Sea World team always brings along a safety diver, in case something happens with a rescuer in the water.

Once the Sea World team captures the manatee, they will load it into a special truck and transport it to their Orlando Park.  There, it will be put in an 85 degree tank, treated, and released into the wild when it becomes healthy enough.

Stay with Action News 5 and for complete coverage of the manatee rescue.  Live video from Wolf River Harbor can be accessed via a link on our homepage.

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Thursday morning update:

Sea World officials have been back and forth in the Wolf River Harbor and have still not located the manatee they came to rescue.  It's impossible to say, at this time, what this might mean.  Although, one rescuer did tell our reporter on the scene that this sometimes happens, that the manatees "hide" and that it sometimes takes hours.

We'll have live reports throughout the morning and, if you like, you can watch activity in the Wolf River Harbor live by clicking on the "watch it now" button on the front page of our site (

Wednesday evening update:

Arescue team arrived at Harbor Landing about 7 pm, but decided to delay their rescue efforts until morning.  But the question is will the manatee make it through the night?

The rescue of the Memphis manatee is now a race against time.  A team of rescuers, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Sea World Orlando, immediately hit the cold, dark waters of Harbor Landing upon arrival Wednesday night.

Their first order of business: to check on manatee's well-being.

"It's cold for the animal, currently, right now. The water temperature seems to be a little bit cold. They can survive for a short amout of time, so we're very hopeful," said Bill Hughes of Sea World Orlando.

The rescue team could not see the animal through the dark, rainy mist.  But they say they have never seen this kind of behavior from a manatee.

"Usually, typical behavior, they come back to Florida, they come back to the warmer waters in the winter time. So this is really unusual," said Nicole Adimey with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Sea World is asking spectators to help make the Thursday morning rescue a success by steering clear of the area.  "We need to be doing nothing but concentrating on the animal and what it's doing and making sure we can safely collect the animal," said Hughes.

The plan is to net and haul the eight-foot long manatee onto a rescue boat.  "We'll bring it over to the dock here," he said.  "We'll take it up to the top of the dock. We'll tranfser it into our van and at that point we'll leave and head back to Orlando."

Once the manatee arrives in Florida, they'll see how it's doing, rehabilitate if necessary and then release it back into the wild.

Early Wednesday update:

A wildlife biologist said today that a misdirected manatee that swam 700 miles up the Mississippi River to Memphis will be taken back to warmer waters by truck within 48 hours.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service plans to haul the manatee down to Florida, where it will recuperate at SeaWorld Adventure Park in Orlando.

The rescue of the Memphis Manatee should look much like previous manatee rescues conducted by Sea World.  Representatives from the park said they will use a net to catch and haul the mammoth mammal either to shore, or onto a boat.

The manatee will them be put into a truck lined with foam to protect it from hurting itself.  The animal will be joined on its journey by a veternarian, as well as two other men who have stayed by the manatee's side since it was first discovered Monday.

James Jackson, the first person to spot the animal, has been out on the banks of the Wolf River Harbor every day to check on the gentle giant.  "I'm really glad I found it, but there's a little guilt because he was having fun out there," Jackson said. "He was doing these rolls and eating, but as soon as the boats came and the media, it headed directly for that main water."

Lt. Ed Vidulich of the Memphis Police Department has been tracking the manatee's movements by boat.  "We're seeing it staying down a little longer than it was yesterday," he said Wednesday afternoon. "To me it says maybe it's calmed down."

Vidiluch said he believes many is now eating, and was encouraged that the water temperature was staying near a crucial warmth of 66 degrees.  Still, Vidiluch said, he was worried that as the Mississippi rises, the temparature will drop.  All involved said the sooner the animal is rescued, the better.

Late Wednesday, a representative from National Fisth and Wildlife was expected to check on the manatee.  She, as well as representatives from Sea World, said the rainy weather Wednesday would not effect rescue efforts.

The manatee has drawn crowds of onlookers from residential areas nearby. Police are restricting boats from entering the harbor.