APOLLO BEACH, Fla. -- When Myakklemore first arrived at the South Florida Museum, he was undersized, underweight and covered in scratches.
Two years later, he returns home a new Manatee, to the cheers of countless onlookers.
"It was very emotional to see this manatee be able to swim into these waters and stay safe," says Patti Christie Miller, who lives a few miles from Apollo Beach.
"They're just amazing creatures, so anything to protect them; whether it's to have the boat speed limit lowered in certain areas, we're all for it," adds Janice Furda who drove from Venice to watch Myakklemore's release.
The South Florida Museum in Bradenton received Myakklemore in 2014, 3 months after he was found in the Myakka River, orphaned and suffering from cold-stress.
He shared swim-space with the museum's famous mascot "Snooty" until his weight exceeded 600 pounds. He is currently 790 lbs.
Director marilyn margold admits these days are both exciting and emotional for volunteers.
"It's a little bit sad, because you spend a lot of time with them and it's like sending your child off to college," says Margold.
Before entering the water, Myakklemore was fitted with a tracking device so members of the Sea to Shore Alliance can monitor his movements, making sure he adjusts properly to the wild.
Some young students on a field trip seized the rare opportunity to pet a manatee for the first time.
"It's like touching a soft blanket!" says Isabella Acevedo.
Volunteer Scott Pasawicz says releasing a manatee is his form of a paycheck.
"This is the reward, and I love it," he says. "Can't wait til the next one."
The museum released Myakklemore by the Big Bend Power Station where hundreds of manatees can be found during the winter. Since he is considered "naive" they hope he can find one or multiple mentors out in the waters to help re-teach him how to navigate the area during the cold months.