By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - About 20 Florida manatees were freed by early Tuesday morning from a storm drain near Cape Canaveral, where they were apparently trying to warm themselves, officials and local media said.
Video footage showed a rescuer comforting one manatee floating at the opening of the pipe, which was cut open during the hours-long rescue.
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The footage, posted online by Central Florida News 13 and Florida Today newspaper, also showed a manatee being carried in a sling to a nearby canal, where it was released to cheers from onlookers, and two other manatees being petted after being hoisted out of the water by heavy machinery.
The rescue in Satellite Beach, a town on the Atlantic coast 15 miles (24 km) south of Cape Canaveral, started mid-afternoon on Monday when Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist, Ann Spellman, sounded the alarm, according to Florida Today.
She told the paper that her hunch led city workers to check the 100-150 feet long drain pipe.
Manatees, also known as sea cows, often leave the Indian River Lagoon during cold snaps for warmer waters in the canals and had probably followed each other into the pipe, she said.
The rescue wrapped up at about 2 a.m. local time (0100 ET), Satellite Beach Fire Department Captain Jay Dragon said, with local police working alongside experts from SeaWorld.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Louise Ireland)