It was just a week ago that the Lowry Park Zoo was posting videos on its Facebook page of the orphan manatee calf nicknamed Emoji. He was happily swimming, drinking formula from a bottle and seemed to be making great health strides three months after he had arrived at the zoo emaciated and with a stomach full of trash.
But Monday morning, the heartsick veterinary staff reported that the little seacow had passed away.
"Emoji is a tragic illustration of the consequences that simple human actions have on the world around us," said Dr. Ray Ball, senior veterinarian for Lowry Park Zoo. "Now more than ever, we must hold ourselves accountable, whether that's keeping trash and plastics out of our waterways or being more mindful of potential consequences of propeller strikes on wildlife while boating."
Along with cold stress and other health issues, veterinarians also found Emoji had plastic bags in his stomach. Many orphaned calves also mistakenly ingest fishing line, fishing hooks and other pollutants while searching for food.
The little manatee was named after the zoo's effort to petition Unicode, the nonprofit that regulates the universal coding for emojis, to create a manatee emoji. The petition effort lives on, and you can learn about it here and sign the petition.
Emoji was around two weeks old and weighed just 66 pounds when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rescued him in late October and brought him to the zoo's manatee hospital. On Jan. 26, the zoo posted a video updating his progress. He had gained 10 pounds and seemed to be on the mend, though there were still health concerns because he faced so many issues at such a young age.
Monday morning, at 2 a.m., the rescued calf died. The zoo will perform a full necropsy, officials there said, which will provide details on the exact cause of death.
"Alongside helping educate the public about manatee care and the dangers of pollution, Emoji allowed the zoo's animal care team to learn more about critical manatee care," a zoo statement said.
In the process of treating him, the veterinary staff discovered Emoji had a very common health issue with manatees called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Emoji was both clotting and bleeding at the same time. The zoo credits six years of research into DIC in finding novel ways to stabilize him and improving his condition.
In addition to the lessons he taught researchers, the zoo said the public should learn a lesson from him, too.
"It's a lesson that a simple human behavior like not throwing trash in waterways, can prevent manatee injuries and deaths," Ball said.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.