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19 Stuck Manatees Rescued From Florida Storm Drain

Rescue crews worked through the night to free 19 manatees that had gotten stuck in a storm drain in Satellite Beach, Fla. It's believed the massive, lumbering mammals, in search of warm water after a recent cold snap, swam into a large drainage pipe near Cape Canaveral but were unable to turn around to get out.

A rescue team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, along with local police and fire services and employees of SeaWorld, mounted the operation to save the manatees. The Reuters video at the top of the page shows a backhoe that dug into the earth and opened up the storm drain. The manatees were hoisted into large blue slings and gently lifted out.

According to Florida Today, some of the manatees had gashes and bruises from the concrete storm infrastructure. The newspaper says a calf, which thrashed around until rescuers could calm it down, and its mother were among the first to be rescued. Crowds of people, who watched the operation well into the night, cheered when the manatees were lifted out of the pipe and released into a nearby pond.

The newspaper says the animals' fate may have been different if Ann Spellman, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, hadn't acted on a hunch. The marine biologist called city workers and asked them to check the drains to see if the mammals were caught inside. She said the slow-moving manatees most likely followed each other into the pipe.

Satellite Beach Fire Chief Don Hughes told the paper that the manatees will go wherever there's warm water. He said they had no option but to rescue them.

"What else could be done? These are living creatures," Hughes said.

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Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.