ORLANDO (FOX 13) - Almost three years after she was rescued, a manatee has returned to Florida's natural waters.
Amidst cheers and bittersweet tears, SeaWorld Orlando's Rescue Team returned Blanche to Port St. John, Florida and watched her swim away, ready to begin her life in the wild.
SeaWorld posted a video of the proud moment, and Blanche's journey to get there on their Facebook page.
On July 21, 2014, Blanche was an orphan calf, estimated to be only two weeks old, when she was found swimming alone in the Indian River.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) rescued her, and brought her to SeaWorld Orlando.
She weighed just 48 pounds and measured 48 inches in length. Blanche required around-the-clock care, including regular bottle feedings.
SeaWorld says the orphaned manatee calf responded well to the immediate care she received and continued to thrive at the rehabilitation center.
As months--then years--passed, Blanche continued to get stronger and gain weight.
According to SeaWorld's rescue team, one of the most critical components to manatee rehabilitation is weight gain. Rescued orphaned manatees must weigh at least 600 pounds before they can be considered strong candidates for return by the Florida Fish and Wildlife.
Today, as she swims away to her new life of freedom, Blanche weighs an amazing and healthy 775 pounds.
SeaWorld Orlando's Rescue Team and FWC recorded Blanche's final measurements moments before release and fitted her with a belt that will allow the Sea to Shore Alliance to monitor her success and track her path in the wild.
Blanche is the sixth rehabilitated manatee SeaWorld has released to the natural environment this year.