MANATEES OF LAKE COUNTY
Emergency Contacts * Manatee Manners * Manatees in Lake County
Leesburg / Trevluc / Sunset * History of the Manatee in Lake County
Appearance and Habits * Research * Manatees in the News
Report a Sighting
“Leesburg” with her calf “Sunset” and tagged manatee “Trevluc” in the Silver River September 2019. (CMARI photo credit)
Who to call if you see a manatee in distress.
1-888-404-FWCC (3922) #FWC on cell phone
Obey all speed zones and use marked channels. Mothers with calves may not move as quickly. When mating, manatees pay less attention to boat traffic. Manatees may become confused when there are several boats in their vicinity. Manatees experiencing cold stress move slower than normal.
Give plenty of room while passing by with your boat. Try not to pass directly over the animal. The manatee you can see may not be traveling alone!
Do not provide food or water to manatees. This alters their foraging behavior and teaches them to seek out human interaction and increases their chances for dangerous contact with boats. Feeding a manatee is considered harassment and is prohibited by Florida law.
Do not approach a manatee. Give them their "personal space". Speak quietly and keep loud noises to a minimum. Respect their habitat.
A manatee calf needs its mother to survive. Never separate a calf from its mother!
Keep unwanted plastics, monofilament line, rope, and other fishing gear out of the water by discarding them properly in trash or recycle bins provided at many marinas. These items frequently injure, entangle, and kill manatees.
Excerpt from Crystal River Refuge's "Manatee Manners: for Boaters.
The Life and Legacy of a Manatee Named "Leesburg"
LEESBURG and SUNSET
Clearwater Marine Aquarium – Research Institute
Monica Ross, Senior Research Scientist
During the summer of 2015, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) began receiving reports of a manatee in Lake Harris, Leesburg, Lake County. Through photos obtained by citizens at the time of their sightings, it was determined there were actually two subadult to adult size manatees in the upper chain lake system of the Ocklawaha. As the public sightings continued to roll in during late fall, concerns increased as it appeared there might not be adequate warm water in the area for manatee survival through a winter. There were also concerns regarding the manatees’ ability to travel north back through the three lock systems they had traversed in spring to get to the chain of lakes. Fliers were placed at local marinas and boat ramps by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) volunteers asking the public to keep a look out for the animals and to report their sightings right away to the FWC Wildlife Hotline number (1-888-404-3922). On 19 August 2015, the body of a medium sized adult male was recovered at the Moss Bluff Lock. The cause of death was not determined because his carcass was too decomposed at recovery, but it did not have any obvious signs of trauma.
During January and February, a single manatee was still being reported in the chain of lakes system. On Valentine’s Day 2016, a manatee was reported in the Venetian Gardens canals. FWC, Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (previously Sea to Shore Alliance) and Save the Manatee Club responded and rescued the manatee before noon. The manatee was a female, in very poor condition, with extensive cold stress over her entire body. Her condition was considered critical with many of her rescuers not expecting her to survive. She was transported to Zoo Tampa (previously Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo), one of only four manatee critical care facilities, to rehabilitate from her cold stress. She received extensive care at the zoo for almost three months and received the name “Leesburg” after the closest location where she was rescued.
On May 11, 2016 “Leesburg” was released into the St. Johns River at Welaka, Putnam County. The release sight was chosen because it was fairly close to the entrance of the Ocklawaha River system, an area “Leesburg” would have passed previously, placing her back in a familiar area for navigation. She weighed 1100 pounds and was just under 9 feet long at release – considered a small adult just reaching the age length of becoming reproductively active. “Leesburg” was outfitted with manatee tracking gear, which contained a GPS tag, so researchers from Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) could monitor her activities if she moved back into the Ocklawaha system. “Leesburg” was the first manatee tagged for CMARI’s Ocklawaha Manatee Use Study with the goal to obtain the first ever manatee movement and habitat distribution use within the Ocklawaha system to assist with identification of feeding locations, resting locations and movement parameters.
Photos of “Leesburg” release May 2016 (CMARI photo credit)
“Leesburg” moved to the Buckman Lock and was locked through just two days after her release. Her movement in the Ocklawaha basin from May to September suggested she was very familiar with the system, finding ample amounts of food to feed on and socializing with other manatees. “Leesburg” began to travel south up the Ocklawaha on the 28 September 2016 and was locked through the Moss Bluff lock on 30 September 2016. She reached Lake Griffin on October 1, 2016 and moved through the Burrell Lock on 10 October 2016 reaching Lake Harris that same day. “Leesburg” moved between Lake Harris and Lake Denham for several days before returning to Lake Griffin on October 22, 2016. During the late hours of October 31,2016, the GPS tag incurred damage from an alligator bite causing it to partially fill with water and sink just below the water column. This stopped all routine transmissions on the location of “Leesburg”, but researchers were able to continue tracking her with some additional equipment inside the belt around her peduncle.
“Leesburg” GPS tag movement locations within the Ocklawaha River system.
As winter set in, “Leesburg” remained in the lake chain of Lake Griffin, Lake Eustis and Lake Harris feeding on primarily hydrilla and coontail (submerged vegetation). CMARI researchers were having a very difficult time changing out her malfunctioning tag because of her avoidance behavior but on 16 December 2016, a new tag was exchanged. “Leesburg” was confirmed at that time to be in great condition with no cold stress apparent on her body. Due to the mild winter conditions in December, no concern was indicated at that time. “Leesburg’s” movement over the next few weeks indicated she was utilizing the entire Lake Harris and Little Lake Harris shoreline, while also utilizing Palatlakaha and Mooring Cove springs during cold fronts. This was wonderful news since it was not previously clear if she had knowledge of where to go for warm water during a cold front.
Unfortunately, the day after Christmas, 26 December 2016, all of her tracking gear fell off, ending her GPS monitoring option for the season. This did not stop CMARI staff. Since we had obtained valuable information on manatee habitat use of the area, we were able to routinely monitor specific springs to help with the health assessment of “Leesburg” through the winter. CMARI had formed a great network of citizens that either ventured out on their boats on a routine basis or lived by the water and could report their sightings of manatees for additional monitoring of “Leesburg” activity. Two “Leesburg” sightings were collected or reported almost weekly to the FWC Wildlife Hotline number or to CMARI staff through the end of March. From photos citizens also obtained, CMARI was able to confirm “Leesburg” had also been hit by a boat on three separate incidents while in the Lake Eustis and Lake Harris.
Public visuals of manatees in the chain of lakes increased in April through May 2017, with up to three manatees confirmed in the system at a given time. “Leesburg” was reported and confirmed from photo-identification to have utilized Lake Harris, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora and Lake Beauclair from March to May with the last confirmed visual reported on 20 May 2017 in Lake Eustis. A report was received at the FWC Wildlife Hotline on 1 July 2017 of a manatee with a calf in Lake Eustis, but no photos were provided to confirm it was “Leesburg”.
Public sighting photos of “Leesburg” from Dec 2017 – April 2018
CMARI researchers did try several times to retag “Leesburg” but her avoidance behavior inhibited our efforts. However, during one of their attempts, she was visually confirmed to be pregnant. Manatee gestation period is 12-13 months. Adding a year to her release date and another month before she was observed in close proximity to more than one male manatee, her birthing date was estimated to occur between mid-June to mid-July 2017.
CMARI researchers monitor several springs along the St. Johns River for manatee use throughout the winter months. Leesburg was resighted at a small spring in the St. Johns River on 5 Jan 2018. With great enthusiasm from researchers, she was documented with a small calf and both were in great condition.
“Leesburg” with calf near a small spring in the St. Johns River on 5 January 2018 (CMARI photo credit)
CMARI began a manatee use study in April 2018 to establish the suitability of Silver River as a viable and sustainable wintering habitat for the Florida manatee and subsequently how the species might be using the system during warmer times of the year. During a survey on 13 September 2018, “Leesburg” and her calf “Sunset” were documented swimming up the Silver River. To our delight, they joined up with “Trevluc”, the second manatee tagged for the Ocklawaha Manatee Use Study. “Leesburg and Sunset” were seen monthly in Silver River through March 2019, using Silver River as their warm water refuge for winter.
“Leesburg” with her calf “Sunset” and tagged manatee “Trevluc” in the Silver River September 2019. (CMARI photo credit)
“Leesburg” was not seen again until 4 December 2019 using Silver River as her warm water refuge for winter. She appeared to be very pregnant, intensely feeding on submerged vegetation, acting normal but displaying a new boat strike scar, a linear mark on her right side. A citizen contacted CMARI and FWC on 9 January 2020 with a report of a manatee floating high on its right side at the mouth of Silver River. The manatee was tucked up on the bank not moving but still alive. CMARI staff responded the next morning to confirm the location and condition of the manatee while FWC deployed a rescue crew. While waiting for the rescue crew to arrive, CMARI staff were monitoring the manatee’s behavior and obtained photo-identification of the scar patterns to help with the identification of the animal. They determined the manatee struggling to breathe was “Leesburg”. The rescue crew were able to capture “Leesburg” but she passed away before they reached the boat ramp to take her to a critical care facility. FWC performed a necropsy at the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg, FL on 10 January 2020. They reported the probable cause of death was Human Related: Watercraft Collision. “Leesburg” had a chronic healing watercraft wound with numerous fractured ribs and vertebral separations. They also confirmed she had a near full term male calf inside of her when she died. Upon examination of the scar photos obtained on 4 December 2019 to her necropsy findings, it is believed she had been suffering from a boat strike injury for over a month before she succumbed to her injuries.
The death of “Leesburg” has been heavy on the people and community that helped rescue her back in 2016 and all those that followed her story in subsequent years. Even though “Leesburg” was killed by human interaction, her story inspired so many to learn more about manatees. Her journey will live on by the invaluable movement data she provided researchers and residents that live and play on the Ocklawaha waterways, all the way down to Leesburg, Florida.
The Story of Trevluc
“Trevluc” traveled through the Buckman Lock and into the Ocklawaha River system on October 25, 2016. He circled within the Upper Ocklawaha and Rodman Reservoir, passing back and forth through the Buckman Lock several times before leaving the system for the winter season on November 13, 2016. “Trevluc” utilized DeLeon Springs the majority of winter, venturing into Blue Springs State Park on the days where he experienced prolonged periods of cold weather.
Trevluc.” GPS tag movement locations within the Ocklawaha River system.
On April 11, 2017, “Trevluc” passed through the Buckman Lock and returned to the Ocklawaha River system, where he made quick time of losing his tag on April 24, 2017. On May 18, 2017, FWC received a public sighting of “Trevluc” in the Ocklawaha near Eureka. He was spotted in the Silver River on June 29 and August 30, 2017 by Silver Spring State Park staff, but he evaded CMARI researchers’ retagging efforts in favor of chowing down on some tasty coontail.
“Trevluc” GPS tag movement locations within the Ocklawaha River system.
“Trevluc” spent the winter bouncing between DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs State Park, returning to the Ocklawaha River March 21, 2019. He visited the Silver River March 30, 2019 for one day, before passing through Moss Bluff Lock on April 8, 2019. He spent May and June exploring Lake Griffin, returning to Moss Bluff three times, but did not traverse through the lock. Mid-June he travelled through Burrell Lock and into Lake Eustis, Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, and Lake Dora. He returned to Lake Griffin via Burrell Lock, where his tag attracted the interest of an alligator, who bit through the floatation ring, causing it to sink and stop transmitting on June 27, 2019. “Trevluc” was found the next day with a very social group of manatees, and his sunk tag was exchanged. He resumed traveling throughout Lake Griffin and the other central lakes. He visited the Lake Apopka Lock and Dam on July 7, 2019. His tag stopped working the next day in Lake Dora, likely the victim of another alligator. Before the tag could be retrieved by CMARI researchers, it was vandalized, transported onto land and further tampered with eliminating further transmissions. “Trevluc” was not resighted again until April 9, 2020 when he was seen near Silver River swimming after a large female manatee.
“Trevluc” and alligators (Photo Credit Cora Berchem SMC; and CMARI)
On July 16, 2020, FWC received a report of a deceased manatee down river from Burrell Lock, at the mouth of Haines Creek, in Lake Griffin. CMARI staff retrieved the carcass for FWC so they could perform a necropsy (similar to a human autopsy) to determine the cause of death. Sadly, the manatee was identified as “Trevluc” and his death was human-related, caused from an acute watercraft collision. The death of “Trevluc” is especially tragic, since it occurred so soon after the death of the first manatee tagged in the Ocklawaha, “Leesburg”. “Leesburg” and her near-term male calf also died due to human interaction from a watercraft collision in January of this year.“Trevluc” was extremely valuable to the research community, as he was a very social animal, and led CMARI to document a record number of manatees in the Ocklawaha River system. He was an ambassador for manatees in particular in the Silver River, where he spent so much of his time and was seen by many people discovering the beauty of our Florida Springs and the many species who call it home.
The History of the Manatee in Florida
Manatee Appearance and Habits
Manatees in the News
SOUTH LAKE TABLET OCTOBER 12, 2020
Report a Manatee Sighting
What do I do if I see a sick, injured, dead, or tagged manatee?
#FWC on cell phone