Reckless the manatee mom and her calf Churro received over 17,000 hours of specialized care at a SeaWorld Orlando rescue center
Reckless and Churro are back to riding the waves.
The recently released manatees arrived at a SeaWorld Orlando rescue center in May 2022 after rescuers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and SeaWorld found Reckless, a mother manatee, with a "catastrophic boat strike" wound in the waters near Broward County. Alongside Reckless was her newborn calf, Churro, who still had her umbilical cord attached.
"Churro looked pretty good. She really looked like a brand-new manatee calf in good condition," Stacy DiRocco, a senior veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando, tells PEOPLE. "I will say, Reckless, her condition was pretty grim. Certainly, the expectation was that she would not survive."
The boat strike left the new mom with a shattered shoulder and a wound that exposed the manatee's deep muscle and tissue.
Despite the severity of the Reckless' injuries, rescuers at SeaWorld Orlando stayed hopeful and worked to save the animal and her baby. At first, rescuers took the manatee mom's recovery day by day, but as Reckless continued to wow vets with her strength, SeaWorld staffers started planning for the sea creature's future.
During her 20 months at the SeaWorld Orlando rescue center, Reckless went through 12 operations, many of which addressed the flipper amputation she needed to survive her boat strike wound.
"We knew there was no way to save her flipper or shoulder," DiRocco says of treating Reckless. "It was catastrophically damaged to the point where there was no saving it, so the only thing I could do from that point forward was figure out how to remove it and complete the amputation, but do it in a way where she would survive such a big procedure. That meant breaking it up into little pieces so we could keep her stable and do it a little bit at a time and then get her to heal from it."
Reckless' rescuers also ensured the manatee mom maintained a strong bond with her calf. SeaWorld Orlando put extra work into the pair's recovery plan so they never had to be apart for long.
"If we had separated them, basically, Churro would've become an orphan, and we would've hand-raised her. It was a little extra effort and a challenge in terms of spacing, but we did everything in our power to keep the two of them together," DiRocco says, adding that the only times Churro was apart from her mom was when Reckless was in surgery.
"We had to make sure that she did okay. We kept her with her mom the whole way through, and that was always the goal. We felt it was the best thing for both of them," the veterinarian shares of Churro.
The duo's bond has extended beyond the walls of the rescue center. After nearly two years of rehabilitation, Reckless and Churro returned to the waters near Broward County, Florida, to restart their lives in the wild.
On Jan. 18, Reckless and Churro were released after receiving over 17,000 hours of specialized care from the rescue center at SeaWorld Orlando.
"It's just a phenomenal story of perseverance and strength that this animal has pulled through this," DiRocco says of Reckless.
The mother-daughter manatees were outfitted with tracking belts before their release, which will allow their rescuers to keep tabs on the animals' health and progress.
DiRocco hopes that Reckless' story inspires humans to be more considerate of sea creatures and wildlife conservation.
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"We need to do better in terms of conservation, and that's not just true of manatees. It's so many species. If we take a minute and, on an individual basis, try to do what we can to be conservation-minded, I think that would be great. When you see these animals in front of you, it creates that inspiration to do that," she says.
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