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Captive manatees finally leave tourist park after 65 years

Pictures show the tank where Romeo was housed in solitary confinement now empty.

Two manatees housed at a US tourist park since 1957 were hauled out of the facility on Tuesday (local time), sparking celebration.

The decision to remove the animals from Miami Seaquarium comes after millions of social media users were shocked by a viral social media video showing the male’s home inside a concrete tank, hidden away from public view.

For months 67-year-old Romeo had been kept in isolation, while his one-time companion Juliet was paired with a younger female named Clarity. Now pictures show Romeo’s tank is empty, and all three have been transported to new homes at other facilities.

Left - Romeo in his tank in an aerial shot. Right - the tank from above now empty.
A manatee named Romeo had been kept isolated in a tank for months at Miami Seaquarium (left), but his tank now lies empty (right). Source: UrgentSeas

While some had hoped Romeo and Juliet could be set free, Florida’s waterways have drastically changed since they were taken from the wild and placed in captivity.

Why Romeo and Juliet cannot be reunited

Earlier this year an elderly orca named Lolita, who had been kept without the company of her species, died from illness at Miami Seaquarium.

After government agents inspected the park, they publicly expressed concerns about the housing conditions of several of its animals including the manatees.

Left - Clarity and Juliet being taken out of their tank. Right - Clarity in the back of a truck.
Clarity and Juliet were trucked out of Miami Seaquarium. Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service
Romeo the manatee in a tarpaulin in his tank.
Romeo the manatee was lifted from his tank at Miami Seaquarium on Tuesday. Source: SeaWorld

Miami Seaquarium had been unable to find tank mates for Romeo after it set several males he had been living with free. He could not be penned with Juliet because regulations ban captive reproduction.

But manatee experts noted his isolation had gone on too long, as manatees are a semi-social species. Activist Phil Demers described his situation as "Groundhog Day in hell".

After Yahoo reported on the weekend that the relocation of the manatees with imminent, the US Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed on Tuesday the move was finally underway. “The manatees are being relocated to other facilities to receive additional expert care,” it said.

It warned the transfer was “high-risk” but necessary to ensure the animals’ future wellbeing. They will now receive veterinary assessments at manatee critical care centres at SeaWorld Orlando and ZooTampa.

“This is the best possible outcome for Romeo and Juliet,” Miami Seaquarium said in a statement.

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