Calls to end solitary confinement of manatee living ‘groundhog day in hell'

An elderly manatee named Romeo has been kept without his Juliette for months.

Kept alone in a barren aquarium tank for months, there are growing fears about the welfare of a 67-year-old manatee.

A disturbing aerial vision of Romeo at Miami Seaquarium went viral on social media in November. It shows the animal in a discoloured outdoor enclosure that’s off limits to the public.

Concerns had been growing about the manatee since an orca named Lolita died at the park from chronic illness — she had been housed without the company of her own species.

Left - Romeo's tank at a distance. Right - Romeo inside his tank close up from above.
Romeo the manatee has been kept in isolation in a tank off-limits to the public for months. Source: UrgentSeas

A recent government inspection report of the park cited several violations across the Florida facility, and raised concerns about housing and welfare. Miami Seaquarium has been unable to acquire any tank mates for Romeo since it set his tank mates free during the US spring.

Thousands call for Romeo to be set free

The video of Romeo was initially shared by activist group UrgentSeas. Its founder Phil Demers explained that when people watch it they can get a sense of his isolation and relate to him. “It's not a life it's merely existence. His life is a nonstop repeat in his mind of the same exact thoughts. I guess you could call it Groundhog Day in hell,” he told Yahoo.

High profile animal lovers including surf champ Kelly Slater have publicly spoken out about Romeo's plight, and a petition calling for his release has close to 15,000 signatures.

Could the end be near for Romeo and his Juliette?

Romeo is understood to be one of three manatees that remain at the Florida facility, and their future remains unclear. Miami Seaquarium has not responded to repeated requests for comment from Yahoo News Australia about Romeo’s condition.

Sources with direct knowledge of the manatees’ condition who spoke to Yahoo on the condition of anonymity say health concerns could prevent them from being set free, meaning they may need to be kept in captivity at another facility.

Romeo is an old manatee — he entered the park in 1957 — back when Elvis Presley was number one on the charts and the world’s first satellite Sputnik 1 was sent into orbit. Another ageing manatee held at Seaquarium, Juliette, is understood to be significantly overweight.

There have been significant changes to their natural environments since they were taken to Miami Seaquarium. It has degraded significantly since then, and there are many more boats on the water capable of striking manatees and causing a fatal wound.

Because Romeo and Juliette were captured before the introduction of the Marine Mammal Act and the Endangered Species Act they are not subject to the same regulations as other manatees.

Several organisations are believed to be working cooperatively with Miami Seaquarium to try and have them rehomed, and they have been given indications that the park may be open to this.

But some are growing frustrated with the slow pace, noting Romeo’s solitary confinement has gone on too long, and the park needs to act quickly.

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