I'd seen manatees in the wild before, but seldom one this tolerant of human company. Curious, I contacted the Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI), located in St. Petersburg. I was directed to Lucy Keith, a scientist who monitors manatees in that area of southwest Florida known as the Charlotte Harbor watershed. She asked what color the tracking device was. I said blue and white.
"Oh," she said brightly, "that's Timehri."
Ms. Keith went on to explain that the devices are color-coded, so the manatees can be identified easily. Although each manatee has a unique history, Timehri is a special case.
Timehri was rescued from the wild in 1990, a sickly orphan calf. She was taken to the Miami Seaquarium, nursed back to health, and released from captivity in 1994. Prior to her release she was fitted with a tracking device with a breakaway collar, and injected with a micro-chip, called a PIT, or Passive Integrated Transponder, which would serve to identify her if the tracking device went missing. A few months after her release, the breakaway collar did just that, and Timehri's whereabouts were unknown for several years. Last winter she was recaptured, this time by Lucy Keith, who confirmed her identity. Before she was released again, she was fitted with another tracking device, a blue and white one.
Recently, Timehri shed her tracking device a second time, and her whereabouts are again unknown. She seems to like the Myakka river, though, so if you paddle it, keep an eye out for friendly manatees.