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  • Helena Kyle

Florida Manatee Rescue

STEWARDSHIP LIFE: Florida Manatee Rescue

By Helena Kyle

May 2, 2019, Pastelito, an adult male manatee, was released back into his familiar habitat off Fort Pierce, where he was critically injured last February by boat impact. His name means, mini cake; a little name for a gentle giant of approximately 1,000 pounds and 11 feet long. A crowd of approximately 200 people viewed the release from the Manatee Observation and Education Center. Pastelito was under the expert care of veterinarian, Maya Rodrigues and her team from the Miami Seaquarium. The veterinarian was present to experience the joy of releasing a fully recovered patient. The rescue of wild animals requires an exceptionally skilled crew of knowledgeable and highly trained individuals.

The men and women behind the scenes of Florida manatee rescue are an adventurous, dedicated force of stewardship warriors. Amber Howell, a marine biologist and Research Associate, Manatee Section of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, states, “The majority of manatee deaths are due to cold water stress, and red tide, with watercraft deaths attributed to 20 %. Collision with boats is the number one cause of injuries. An average of one hundred Florida manatees are rescued annually, statewide, with one hundred thirty-five rescues as of 2018.” Vessels heeding manatee-zone speed limits, watching for their footprint (rippling water circling around them), and wearing polarized sun glasses helps prevent injuries.

During the mating season, spring through summer, manatees may be sighted along Florida’s coastal waters, rolling or crawling near shore in as little as 6 inches of water. But, should you see a manatee that appears stranded, do not hesitate to call for help. Keep your distance to avoid frightening them, or interrupting the natural order of their life cycle. Use binoculars or zoom lenses for viewing. Getting too close causes problems; they may leave their necessary warm-water habitat, or swim to busy boating waterways leaving them vulnerable to impact by watercraft. Also, frightened calves may separate from their mother, lessening their chance of survival.

How to report an injured or deceased manatee:

Call the helpline: 888-404-3922. The dispatcher will route your call to the rescue specialist. Stay at the site until the dispatcher returns your call.

  • Take a photo of the manatee.

  • What is the approximate size of the manatee?

  • What is the exact location of the manatee?

  • How long have you been observing the manatee?What is the location of the closest public boat ramp to the manatee?

  • Signs of a distressed or injured manatee (from Save the Manatee,

Since manatees can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes at a time, frequent surfacing could be indicative of an injury.

  • If you see a manatee with a pink or red wound or with deep cuts. This means the wound is fresh.

  • If you see a manatee with grayish-white or white wounds, this likely means the wound has healed. But the manatee can still have internal injuries, so continue to observe the animal for any of the other characteristics listed here.

  • If the manatee is tilting to one side, unable to submerge, seems to have trouble breathing, or is acting strangely.

  • If you observe a manatee calf by itself with no adults around for an extended period of time. Manatee calves may remain dependent on their mothers for up to two years. If the mother dies before the calf is weaned, there is a strong likelihood the calf will not survive alone.

  • If you see anyone harassing a manatee.

  • If you see boaters speeding in a protected area.

  • If you see a manatee who has become entangled in monofilament line, crab trap lines, or other debris. Do not attempt to remove debris by yourself. Debris may be embedded underneath the skin and only a trained veterinarian can adequately assess and repair the damage.

  • If you see a dead manatee. By doing a necropsy, scientists can sometimes determine the cause of death and better understand the dangers to manatees.

  • If you see a manatee tagged with a radio or satellite transmitter. Sightings of tagged manatees help provide researchers with information that can be used to protect manatees and their habitat. However, do not attempt to remove the transmitter. It is designed to come off if it becomes entangled, so the animal won’t be trapped.

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