Freedom from solitary confinement for manatee living 'groundhog day in hell'

'It feels like lightening has struck to the benefit of these manatees.'

An elderly manatee that was kept in isolation for months is on the brink of being removed from a US tourist park after an international outcry.

After his Florida keepers shifted 67-year-old Romeo out of public view, activists captured aerial footage of the lonely mammal’s conditions and shared it online. When Yahoo News Australia first spoke Phil Demers about his campaign to remove Romeo from Miami Sequarium, he described the creature’s life as “Groundhog Day in hell”.

Speaking a week later on Friday evening (local time), he said news that Romeo might soon leave the facility felt “surreal”.

Romeo and where has been housed alone for months at Miami Sequarium.
Romeo has been housed alone for months at Miami Sequarium. Source: UrgentSeas

Romeo and Juliette will be removed from Florida tourist park

Romeo and 61-year-old female named Juliette have been kept at Miami Sequarium since 1957 — the year Elvis Presley purchased Graceland and the Russian’s launched the first ever man-made satellite into space.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is concerned the pair, along with a younger manatee, appear to be experiencing health issues. Yahoo understands the Service will be assisting in the transport effort to remove them due to concerns about their care.

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 them free during the US spring. Another resident at the facility, an orca named Lolita died at the park from chronic illness after 50 years in human care.

Romeo and Juliet. I just love the sound of that. What a beautiful romantic story.Phil Demers

Because Romeo and Juliette have been at the facility for decades, they predate the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and fall outside of the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

But at the request of Miami Seaquarium, it has been working to rehome the animals with conservation collective Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership so they can receive appropriate care. Due to their age, Romeo and Juliette are considered high-risk animals when it comes to transportation, so further veterinary analysis is needed before they are removed.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes the health and welfare of manatees in managed care seriously,” it Service said in as statement.

Asked whether the Miami Seaquarium was planning to imminently rehome the animals, it responded, “At this moment we are evaluating along with the authorities and other partners the best option for our manatees.”

How activism helped free Romeo and Juliette

While manatee organisations have been diligently working to improve the manatees’ situation in the background, Demers believes that activism played a key role in hurrying along their removal.

More than 3.3 million people watched the video of Romeo on his UrgentSeas social media accounts, and Demers believes it was effective people were able to put themselves in the manatee's situation.

“It put Romeo in every person’s living room and heart and soul… It feels like lightning has struck to the benefit of these manatees. It was a rare and sudden spark of movement,” he said. “To know the world is capable of something like that reinvigorates your life and makes you believe in good.”

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