Months after a boat strike nearly severed its tail paddle, a rehabilitated manatee nicknamed “Key3PO'' has been returned to waters in the Florida Keys.
The release Monday came about eight months after rescuers from Dolphin Research Center and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recovered the 900-pound male marine mammal with crushed vertebrae and deep wounds to its tail paddle. The extremity is the animal's primary means of propulsion.
After it was rescued, the manatee was transported to the Miami Seaquarium for several surgical procedures and rehabilitation.
Even though the animal is missing more than half of its tail paddle, marine mammal experts are confident it can dive, stay submerged, forage for food and survive on its own.
Florida manatees were recently reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species.