These adorable ‘sea cows’ will return to their native waters when they’re big enough to handle life in the wild on their own.
Manatee swims through water near sandy floor
Credit: NaluPhoto / Getty

Life is often challenging for gentle manatees. Once an endangered species, they were downgraded in 2018 to threatened, which is good, but not great. Ocean Today states that although they don't have natural predators, these aquatic cousins of elephants are still at risk due to cold stress, collisions with boats and ships, disease, entanglement in fishing lines, loss of habitat, red tide algae, and sewage.

So it was a big deal when three manatee orphans—Alby, Manhattan, and SwimShady (yes, a clever play on words relating to the popular rap song)—were rescued on Wednesday by the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden.

According to a release from the organization, the Cincinnati Zoo is one of only two manatee facilities outside of Florida that provides non-critical rehabilitation. Officially known as the Otto M. Budig Family Foundation Manatee Springs, the goal of the facility is to "rescue, rehabilitate, and release manatees, and we're honored to play a role in this important conservation work," said Cincinnati Zoo curator Winton Ray. The zoo participates in the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership.

Although their ages are uncertain, Alby, Manhattan, and SwimShady are all males weighing around 200 pounds right now. They'll likely reach 1,200 pounds as full grown bulls. To give you an idea of their need for rehabilitation, Alby and Manhattan were emaciated barely a year ago, weighing less than 65 pounds. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums indicates that depending on the manatee's condition, it can be months or even years before wild-bound animals can safely return to their native waters. The Cincinnati Zoo has cared for 23 animals, and 18 swam back into their homeland springs. 

The zoo reports there are approximately 13,000 manatees, with "6,500 in the southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico, mostly in Florida." Soon, these three intrepid seafarers will add to the ranks. 

Watch their exciting arrival at the zoo!