Manhattan Manatee to be Released to the Wild

Ilya, the sea cow who captured our hearts, will swim free

By Brian Hamacher
|  Tuesday, Dec 15, 2009  |  Updated 10:49 AM EDT
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Marine Mammal Stranding Center

Ilya is safely recuperating at The Marine Mammal Stranding Center.

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Ilya the Manhattan manatee is going free.

The tough sea cow who survived a long, cold trip from Miami to New York, capturing hearts along the way, will be be returned to his ocean friends today.

The Miami Seaquarium, where Ilya has been recuperating for the past month and a half, will let him go back into the wild later today.

The 9-foot, 1,300-pound Ilya led wildlife officials on quite a chase earlier this year, traveling over 1,200 miles north along the Atlantic coast. After stops in Maryland and Massachusetts, Ilya had seemed to have taken to the waters of New York harbor, settling in a spot near a oil refinery in Linden, New Jersey.

As the waters up north got colder, it became too dangerous for Ilya to stay. Manatees generally need water temperatures to stay at or above 68 degrees, but the New York waters were dipping into the lower 60s and 50s in late October, and Ilya was in danger of dying of hypothermia.

Officials decided his Jersey trip was over, so they they loaded Ilya into a C-130 cargo plane and brought him to Miami,  where he's been recuperating ever since.

Other than New York being so damn cool, it's not clear why manatees like Ilya are leaving the sunny shores of Florida and wandering so far north, but a handful do so each year.

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