Employees at ZooTampa are working to rehabilitate a record number of manatees and one was released into its native waters Wednesday morning!By Casey Albritton

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – Employees at ZooTampa are working to rehabilitate a record number of manatees and one was released into its native waters Wednesday morning!

This comes after the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced 2021 was the deadliest year on record for manatees, with over 1,100 dead.

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Chandler, a 720-pound manatee was released in the water at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center Wednesday morning and for many people it was a bitter-sweet moment. Officials at ZooTampa say chandler is the first of many manatees to be rehabilitated and released this year.

“We knew something was wrong because he was circling and every time he would come up his nose was a tan color,” said Tampa Bay resident, Joy Ramond.

A year ago, Joy Raymond was biking near Portosueno Park in Manatee County, when she saw a manatee acting stressed in the water.

“So went home and called FWC,” said Raymond.

A year later, that manatee is finally healthy.

Curator of Florida Manatees at ZooTampa, Molly Lippincott says “Today we released chandler the manatee. He came to us last year for cold-stress syndrome, and he made a beautiful recovery and it was time for him to be released back home.”

Chandler finally got to swim in open water again, after a year of rehabilitation at ZooTampa.

“I really have no doubts that he’s going to do well out there,” said Lippincott.

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Lippincott has been taking care of Chandler over the last year, since he came in for hypothermia.

“Him in particular, he definitely needed to gain some weight, and that’s typical when they are suffering from cold stress,” said Lippincott.

She says Chandler gained about 300 pounds since coming to ZooTampa, but he isn’t the only one needing help. Lippincott is currently helping rehabilitate 19 different manatees at the facility.

“Right now we are feeding 1,300 pounds of food to our animals,” said Lippincott.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports 2021 was the deadliest year for manatees. According to data, 1,101 manatees died.

“To have such a deadly year has been very discouraging and disheartening,” said Lippincott.

That’s why Lippincott says you should keep an eye out for struggling manatees and try not to contribute to pollution and Raymond says she hopes Chandler has a long and healthy life.

“Every life matters. Hopefully we made some difference in the world, and he will go out and have some babies of his own eventually,” said Lippincott.

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“I’m happy he’s out there but then he’s not as safe as sitting in an aquarium, but he needs to get out there and be with the other manatees,” said Raymond.