The Loneliest Manatee: 67-Year-Old Romeo’s Heartbreaking Isolated Existence in a Tiny 30ft Concrete Pool at Miami Seaquarium

Spinning slowly in circles in his small concrete tank in an off-limits area of an aquarium, Romeo the manatee is the picture of loneliness.

The 67-year-old has been at the Miami Seaquarium – the same center where the ‘loneliest whale in the world’, Lolita, died earlier this year – since 1956, and campaigners say he has been kept in isolation since at least April.

Manatees are semi-social animals and ‘suffer psychologically when not living in pairs or groups’ – but Romeo has long been separated from his partner, and the mother of his offspring, Juliet, and has been alone since his other companions were released.

The drone footage shows Romeo alone in a small concrete tank in an ‘off-limits’ area of the park where he is allegedly kept alone

The drone footage shows Romeo alone in a small concrete tank in an ‘off-limits’ area of the park where he is allegedly kept alone

Romeo has been kept at the Seaquarium since 1956 and campaigners say he has been alone since at least April of this year

The video, shot by campaign group UrgentSeas, pans over a desolate area of the park before zooming in on the solitary figure of Romeo, spinning in circles in the murky waters.

UrgentSeas co-founder, Phil Demers, claims that Romeo has been kept alone in the tank in ‘Pompano pools’ which are closed to the public, since at least last April.

It is not clear exactly how long he has been alone, or why he cannot be with his partner Juliet, but Demers said: ‘He was separated from Juliet a long time ago – I think it’s a breeding issue, they aren’t allowed to breed manatees.

‘He used to have companions when new manatees were brought in, but that was a long time ago.’

Sharing the new video online, he wrote: ‘This video was taken on November 13, 2023, above the Miami Seaquarium.

‘Romeo, a 67-year-old manatee lives in complete isolation in ever-deteriorating conditions. We must fight for Romeo!’

Romeo’s plight was picked up by 11-time World Surf League champ Kelly Slater who called for people to put pressure on the Florida seaquarium to release him.

Kelly Slater told DailyMail.com: ‘I’m always confused and sad seeing these stories. For context, I don’t know how the manatee ended up in the aquarium or if there is a reason it can’t be returned to the wild but my thoughts on it are that manatees are very social creatures and very free, roaming large distances across the state of Florida.

‘They’re the gentlest creatures in the world and such a great and recognizable mammal in our state. It seems the humane thing to do to return these animals to their rightful place in nature, along with cetaceans of all kinds which shouldn’t be in captivity at all unless terribly injured and unable to return to the wild and have quality of life.

‘I grew up swimming with and admiring manatees my whole life and it would be a feel good story to see this manatee returned safely to live out its days in the wild.’

Footage from April showed Romeo alone in the same tank in the Pompano pools. The pool was uncovered at the time, prompting concerns there was nowhere for him to shelter from the sun

He could be seen swimming into the shaded area of the tank, while two other tanks in the off-limits area stood empty

Sharing the video on Instagram, Slater said: ‘This is crazy. Would be cool if everyone pressured #MiamiSeaquarium (they don’t allow tags) to let this 67-year-old manatee be free for the remainder of its life and have some companionship. Is there any reason it can’t be released?’

The Miami Seaquarium says on its website that Romeo and his partner Juliet were ‘rescued in 1956’ and are ‘local celebrities’ at the aquarium where they have lived for 66 years.

Romeo’s partner, Juliet, who he has had multiple calves with is also still at the Seaquarium, but she is kept in a separate ‘celebrity’ tank on the main site.

But Demers claims that Romeo has been kept ‘all alone’ in the ‘off-limits’ Pompano pools that are closed to the public.

He added: ‘Manatees are semi-social animals and suffer psychologically when not living in pairs or groups.

‘But Romeo remains all alone. All the time.’

Manatees can live to between 50 and 60-years-old in wild, and up to 65 in captivity, making Romeo a senior.

In a report release earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the Miami Seaquarium for alleged insufficient animal care and staffing problems – and slammed them for their treatment of Romeo.

The report said that Romeo had been housed alone in his enclosure because the three other manatees he was living with were released back into the wild in the spring.

And despite numerous attempts to acquire another manatee the Seaquarium did not meet the requirements to do so.

The report noted: ‘Although numerous attempts have been made to acquire another manatee it was determined the facility did not yet meet the requirements to receive another animal.

‘Manatees are semi-social animals and do better medically and psychologically when they are housed in pairs or groups.’

Romeo has been at the Miami Seaquarium since 1956, he is now 67 years old

He added that because Romeo has been in captivity for so long, the ‘odds would be strongly against him’ to survive in the wild and he would be better off in a safe environment with health care and other manatees.

A petition to free Romeo has over 20,000 signatures. It reads: ‘We demand them to do the right thing and release Romeo now!

‘He should be allowed freedom, can you imagine swimming in circles in a tiny, dirty tank for decades?’

Demers wrote in the comments section of the Urgent Seas video that he plans to take action with ‘a protest at the Miami Seaquarium on Dec. 16, 2023, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. See you there!’

He also claimed that the Seaquarium is taking legal action against him, saying: ‘The Miami Seaquarium’s lawyers have filed a motion seeking a gag order against me.

‘They’re suing me for publishing drone videos of their poor treatment of animals and the atrocious conditions they live in. More to come.’

Miami Seaquarium posted ‘November is Manatee Awareness Month!’ on its Facebook account on November 9. A popular comment replying to the post asked: ‘What about Romeo?’

Lolita, the ‘loneliest whale in the world’, died aged 57

Experts and concerned individuals had long protested against Lolita’s conditions in captivity, including the size of her 80-foot long and 35-foot wide tank

Romeo is being kept in the same Seaquarium that Lolita the orca died in in March this year.

Lolita was once dubbed the ‘loneliest whale in the world’ and died aged 57, just months before her scheduled retirement.

Experts and concerned individuals had long protested against Lolita’s conditions in captivity, including the size of her 80-foot long and 35-foot wide tank, the smallest of its kind in the US.

Just 10 years after Lolita arrived at the aquarium, her companion Hugo died of an aneurysm that was caused by repeated head trauma, earning her the title of the world’s loneliest whale.

Lolita was the oldest whale in captivity at age 56 and performed until 2022 when she was finally retired after falling ill.

Sia

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