By Kate Santich
1:28 AM EDT, May 1, 2013
This has been a very bad year to be a manatee.
More than 550 of the gentle sea cows have died so far in 2013 -- more than 10 percent of the Florida manatee population. In the first few months of this year alone, more manatees died than in all of last year.
Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, says the culprit is toxic blooms of algae (the so-called red tide) and a huge die-off of sea grasses, the manatees’ main food source.
Red tide acts as a neurotoxin in manatees, giving them seizures that can result in drowning -- if there's no human intervention. The affected manatees may exhibit muscle twitches, lack of coordination, labored breathing and an inability to maintain a proper position in the water. If they're rescued in time, though, most manatees can recover.
So if you should see a sick or distressed manatee, it's important to report the situation immediately to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on your cellular phone, or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.
“It’s crucial that manatees exposed to red tide are moved out of the affected area by trained biologists and stabilized at a critical care facility, where prognosis is very good,” Tripp said. “Extraordinary efforts from individuals calling for help have already saved manatee lives.”
In one case, a manatee reported as dead turned out to be barely alive, and through the efforts of a dedicated rescue volunteer the manatee is now fully recovered.
Callers who report a sighting should be prepared to answer the following questions:
After calling the hotline, you'll be connected to state biologists or law-enforcement officers who will advise what to do to assist the manatee until trained help arrives. Closely follow their expert instruction and be prepared to stay on scene. You're the best chance for survival.
The Save the Manatee Club was established in 1981 by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham.
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