America’s loneliest manatee has finally been moved after the mammal was left to live out his twilight years in a tiny 30ft concrete pool in Miami and forced to live separately from his mate Juliet.
A video of Romeo taken last month at Miami Seaquarium went viral showing the 67-year-old manatee, who has been there since 1956, circling in a worse-for-wear pool.
Earlier on Tuesday, the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP) successfully transported three manatees – Romeo, Juliet and Clarity – from Miami Seaquarium (MSQ) to SeaWorld Orlando and ZooTampa.
The transportation was a tremendous struggle due to the animals’ size, weight and health condition.
But accompanied by specialized vehicles and an experienced team of vets and animal care specialists, all three animals made the trip safely.
Juliet being placed in the water at ZooTampa
Clarity being delivered to ZooTampa
SeaWorld Orlando’s Rescue Team prepares to move Clarity
The animals required rescue and relocation due to lack of sufficient care at their previous facility, as reported by the USDA.
The first manatee, Clarity, is an adult female manatee that has stayed at MSQ since 2009 when she was rescued due to watercraft-related injuries.
The US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) is stepping up to remove the animal from MSQ and has requested SeaWorld Orlando care for her.
She will rehabilitate at SeaWorld Orlando until the MRP reviews her case and determines the best placement for her.
The other two manatees, Romeo and Juliet, weigh more than 3,000 pounds and have resided at MSQ since the late 1950’s.
ZooTampa contacted the USFWS and offered to temporarily care for the two manatees, while the MRP identifies a permanent location for them.
Video of Romeo swimming forlornly in his tank – estimated to be just 30ft wide – went viral earlier this month as surfing legend Kelly Slater backed a campaign for his release, which quickly gained more than 20,000 signatures.
The video, shot by campaign group UrgentSeas, pans over a desolate area of the park before zooming in on the solitary figure of Romeo, spinning in circles in the murky waters.
One of the manatees being transported
Juliet in a sling as Clarity awaits
Clarity in SeaWorld Orlando
One of the manatees being transferred to their new home
Juliet in the back of the truck during the difficult transportation
Romeo being placed into this new home
Clarity being placed into the water
Clarity being released into the water
Clarity being released into the water
Clarity being hoisted up using a crane to be delivered
Juliet being lowered into the water
UrgentSeas co-founder, Phil Demers, claims that Romeo had been kept alone in the tank in ‘Pompano pools’, which are closed to the public, since at least last April.
Romeo was moved after an outcry from animal right activist over his living conditions.
Campaigners said he had been kept in isolation since at least April.
US Fish and Wildlife Services confirmed that they would be transporting Romeo from the center, where the ‘loneliest whale in the world’, Lolita, died earlier this year
A spokesperson for the service said last week: ‘The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes the health and welfare of manatees in managed care seriously.
‘The Service is working with an experienced team of manatee rescue and rehabilitation experts through the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership to assist with the transport effort of manatees from Miami Seaquarium.’
Romeo had been kept at the Seaquarium since 1956 and campaigners said she had been alone since at least April of this year
The manatees at the facility being moved so that they could receive appropriate care, with three of them appearing to be experiencing health issues.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that transport of the animals was high-risk, but necessary for the animals’ future wellbeing.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture slammed the site operators, The Dolphin Company, for their treatment of Romeo and general poor care.
Manatees are semi-social animals and ‘suffer psychologically when not living in pairs or groups’ – but Romeo has long been separated from his partner, and the mother of his offspring, Juliet, and has been alone since his other companions were released.
It is not clear exactly how long Romeo had been alone, or why he couldn’t be with his partner Juliet, but Demers said: ‘He was separated from Juliet a long time ago – I think it’s a breeding issue, they aren’t allowed to breed manatees.’
In an update, Demers said: ‘US Fish and Wildlife are expected to relocate Romeo, Juliet and another manatee from the Miami Seaquarium to an MPR (Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership) facility in the coming days. Can’t happen soon enough.’
The drone footage shows Romeo alone in a small concrete tank in an ‘off-limits’ area of the park where he is allegedly kept alone
Sharing the original video online, Demers wrote: ‘This video was taken on November 13, 2023, above the Miami Seaquarium.
‘Romeo, a 67-year-old manatee lives in complete isolation in ever-deteriorating conditions. We must fight for Romeo!’
Romeo’s plight was picked up by 11-time World Surf League champ Kelly Slater who called for people to put pressure on the Florida aquarium to release him.
Kelly Slater told DailyMail.com: ‘I’m always confused and sad seeing these stories. For context, I don’t know how the manatee ended up in the aquarium or if there is a reason it can’t be returned to the wild but my thoughts on it are that manatees are very social creatures and very free, roaming large distances across the state of Florida.
‘They’re the gentlest creatures in the world and such a great and recognizable mammal in our state.
‘It seems the humane thing to do to return these animals to their rightful place in nature, along with cetaceans of all kinds which shouldn’t be in captivity at all unless terribly injured and unable to return to the wild and have quality of life.
‘I grew up swimming with and admiring manatees my whole life and it would be a feel good story to see this manatee returned safely to live out its days in the wild.’
Surfing legend Kelly Slater backed the campaign to free Romeo
Romeo had been at the Miami Seaquarium since 1956. He is now 67 years old
The Miami Seaquarium says on its website that Romeo and his partner Juliet were ‘rescued in 1956’ and are ‘local celebrities’ at the aquarium where they have lived for 66 years.
Romeo’s partner, Juliet, who he has had multiple calves with was still at the Seaquarium, but she was kept in a separate ‘celebrity’ tank on the main site.
But Demers claims that Romeo had been kept ‘all alone’ in the ‘off-limits’ Pompano pools that are closed to the public.
He added: ‘Manatees are semi-social animals and suffer psychologically when not living in pairs or groups. But Romeo remains all alone. All the time.’
Manatees can live to between 50 and 60-years-old in wild, and up to 65 in captivity, making Romeo a senior.
In a report release earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the Miami Seaquarium for alleged insufficient animal care and staffing problems – and slammed them for their treatment of Romeo.
The report said that Romeo had been housed alone in his enclosure because the three other manatees he was living with were released back into the wild in the spring.
And despite numerous attempts to acquire another manatee the Seaquarium did not meet the requirements to do so.
The report noted: ‘Although numerous attempts have been made to acquire another manatee it was determined the facility did not yet meet the requirements to receive another animal.
‘Manatees are semi-social animals and do better medically and psychologically when they are housed in pairs or groups.’
Footage from April showed Romeo alone in the same tank in the Pompano pools. The pool was uncovered at the time, prompting concerns there was nowhere for him to shelter from the sun
He could be seen swimming into the shaded area of the tank, while two other tanks in the off-limits area stood empty
In March 2022, the lease for the site was transferred to The Dolphin Company – since then, the USDA has issued a series of violation warnings, and findings of animals hurt and in distress.
The most recent report accused the aquarium of issues with inadequate veterinary care, animal handling, facilities and critical separation.
Dolphins were found to have eaten concrete and zip ties while one had broken ribs after an attack.
The report said the facility had ‘failed to provide proper equipment or services to ensure adequate veterinary care’ and failed ‘to maintain a marine mammal enclosure in good repair and protect the animals from injury.’
Despite the report, the November footage showed Romeo was still alone in the tiny pool surrounded by three other empty and stained tanks.
Manatees are classed as a threatened species in the US with just 7,500 in the wild in Florida.
The slow-moving creatures swim and rest in very shallow water and are very curious, making them vulnerable to injury by boat propellers.
Lolita, the ‘loneliest whale in the world’ and the star attraction at Miami Seaquarium for decades, died aged 57
Experts and concerned individuals had long protested against Lolita’s conditions in captivity, including the size of her 80-foot long and 35-foot wide tank
Romeo was being kept in the same Seaquarium that Lolita the orca died in in March this year.
Lolita was once dubbed the ‘loneliest whale in the world’ and died aged 57, just months before her scheduled retirement.
Experts and concerned individuals had long protested against Lolita’s conditions in captivity, including the size of her 80-foot long and 35-foot wide tank, the smallest of its kind in the US.
Just 10 years after Lolita arrived at the aquarium, her companion Hugo died of an aneurysm that was caused by repeated head trauma, earning her the title of the world’s loneliest whale.
Lolita was the oldest whale in captivity at age 56 and performed until 2022 when she was finally retired after falling ill.