Two aging sea cows by the names of Romeo and Juliet, who have spent over 60 years at the Miami Seaquarium, have been relocated to greener pastures, or rather, clearer waters, at ZooTampa following an uproar from a viral video that exposed their dismal living conditions. The relocation, spurred by a video that went viral on TikTok, Instagram, and other platforms, revealing a solitary Romeo circling his concrete pool, enlisted a wave of public sentiment and pressure leading to their rescue on Tuesday, as reported by USA Today.
These manatees' plight captured the hearts of animal lovers worldwide, with the social media video collecting a whopping 28.5 million views across various platforms, a clear indicator of the discontent and empathy stirred among viewers. One Phil Demers, an activist with UrgentSeas, which published the video, shared the visceral reaction many felt, saying, "It's a gut punch," this gut punch turned into a massive 45,000 signature petition that called for better conditions for the manatees, according to Demers in a piece by USA Today.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed their partnership with the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership for this maneuver, which didn't come without risks given the health issues and advanced age of the sea mammals; nevertheless, the sentiment was that at ZooTampa and SeaWorld Orlando—where a third manatee, Clarity, was also rehomed—the aquatic mammals would receive the necessary expert care absent at their previous home, as per the emailed statement of Carli Segelson, the spokesperson for the agency as stated in USA Today.
The tide of support swelled as logistics were put into place for a move of such magnitude; the manatees, after decades in the Seaquarium, were carted across the state of Florida to their new abode, where an expecting staff and a custom-made crane awaited for this hefty endeavor, Melissa Nau, the senior director of animal health at ZooTampa, quipped about the complexities “As you can imagine, a manatee is quite a hefty load,” highlighting the rigorous process involved in the transition to ZooTampa, where each of the mammoths of the sea will receive thorough health assessments amid their journey from the now-criticized conditions under the Seaquarium's care, as recounted by the Tampa Bay Times.
Phil Demers, of UrgentSeas, credited the groundswell of public pressure for the eventual success of the manatees' relocation initiative, expressing in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times that "it’s a beautiful thing" to see the community's efforts come to fruition. Meanwhile, the Miami Seaquarium has found itself not only releasing their long-time aquatic tenants but also in the murky legal waters of litigation, alleging Demers flew a drone over the premises without authorization.
The story of Romeo and Juliet, albeit lacking Shakespearean drama, has nonetheless landed the pair a shot at a revitalized and healthier existence beyond the confines of their former tanks, providing them with a sanctuary where Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of Save the Manatee Club, believes they will receive optimal care and treatment. This move, as depicted in their watery journey now concluded at ZooTampa, serves as a testament to the power of collective advocacy for animal welfare, as articulated by Tampa Bay Times.