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Ilya the meandering manatee is returned to Miami

Ilya, a 1,100-pound, 9-foot-long manatee, gets help from Miami Seaquarium workers as he slides into his new temporary home.

Associated Press

Ilya, a 1,100-pound, 9-foot-long manatee, gets help from Miami Seaquarium workers as he slides into his new temporary home.

MIAMI — Ilya the meandering manatee was returned to Miami on Thursday, plucked from the frigid waters of the Northeast after a massive search and rescue coordinated with the precision of a military operation.

Three government agencies, a marine wildlife group, an international energy corporation and the Miami Seaquarium all pitched in to rescue the wayfaring sea cow, which strayed far from its Florida home and wandered the inhospitably cold waters of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey for months.

The 1,100-pound, 9-foot-long manatee concluded its epic odyssey in a concrete water tank at the Seaquarium, where he will spend a few weeks recovering from mild cold stress and weight loss.

"He's really not bad," said Maya Rodriguez, a Seaquarium veterinarian who flew to New Jersey on Monday to help rescue the wayfaring sea cow, which was in danger of succumbing to hypothermia.

The gentle giant was trapped with a net, dragged on shore and lifted by crane aboard a truck, then transported to a warm water pool at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a rescue facility in New Jersey.

From there, Ilya was taken by truck to Atlantic City International Airport, loaded onto a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 cargo airplane and flown to Opa-locka Airport.

The adventurous sea cow arrived at the Seaquarium inside a white box truck.

Robert Rose, a curator for Miami Seaquarium, estimated the rescue operation likely cost "tens of thousands of dollars."

Ilya the meandering manatee is returned to Miami 10/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 12:06am]

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