CAPE CORAL, Fla. - With a splash and a cheer, seven gentle giants: Lorange, Flee, Eel, Tide, Manlee, Cheer, and Threepio returned to the waters they call home.
They were released at the Horton Park Boat Ramp in Cape Coral.
It's especially exciting for Tim Martell with Manatee Guides. Martell is specially certified to rescue the sea cows. He personally helped save four of the manatees in this release.
"It was, the best way to describe it would be a spiritual experience, it was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life," said Martell.
This release comes on the heels of a record breaking red tide event that's killed 272 manatees in southwest Florida waters this year alone. These are the preliminary numbers.
Red tide is a toxic algae bloom that the manatees ingest and causes paralysis. The manatees die when they can't keep their heads above water to breathe.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials with help from partnering agencies rescued 16 manatees. All of them suffered the affects of red tide. 15 of them survived, and experts at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo nursed them back to health.
"I feel fantastic. It's really great to see everyone, that worked hard this winter, for their efforts to pay with this release," said Denise Boyd, FWC Manatee research associate.
More manatee releases are planned for later in July.