Published: Jul 09, 2013 1:21 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 09, 2013 1:24 PM EDT

CAPE CORAL, Fla.- Seven manatee red tide survivors, rehabilitated at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, were returned to Cape Coral waters today.

The Zoo’s David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital is the only critical care facility to treat sea cows sick from red tide during this season’s bloom. Among the group going home to Lee County from the Zoo include: “Lorange,”a 400-pound female who arrived January 13; “Manlee,”a 880-pound male who arrived February 19; “Tide,” a 550-pound male who arrived March 5; “Eel,” a 745-pound female who arrived March 6; and “Flee,” a 905-pound female who arrived March 8.

Two additional manatees known as “Cheer,” a 480-pound male who arrived February 20, and “Threepio,” a 860-pound male who arrived February 21, will be released by staff from Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park where they have been housed since March 14 after initial treatment at the Zoo to ensure the manatee hospital had space to accommodate critical care patients.

In 2013, a preliminary record number of 272 wild manatee deaths have been associated with red tide in Southwest Florida waters. Through extensive response efforts of TheFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its partners, 16 manatees overcome by the toxin were able to be rescued, clinging to life. Each was transported to the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo for critical care, where all but one survived.

To date, the Zoo has now taken in 321 manatees for critical care and rehabilitation since 1991 for a variety of severe illnesses and catastrophic injuries including boat strikes, cold stress, orphans, entanglement and red tide exposure.