An outbreak of Red Tide, a deadly algae bloom, in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida is killing a record number of endangered Florida manatees. The Red Tide bloom has been killing at least 10 manatees a day and shows no sign of letting up any time soon, according to state biologists. Roughly 40% of the state’s manatee population of only 4,00-5,000 lives in the area impacted by the bloom. The current Red Tide bloom affects about 70 miles of the southwest Florida coast, extending along the shores of Sarasota County south through the middle of Lee County.
The record for manatees killed by Red Tide was set in 1996, with 151 killed by a toxin in the algae bloom. As of Friday, the number killed this year had hit 149, DeWit said, which means the record is likely to fall by today.
Eleven manatees have been rescued, alive but ailing, and taken to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for treatment. The treatment requires having zookeepers stand in the manatees’ water tank and hold the manatee’s head up out of the water so it can breathe.
“They’re basically paralyzed and they’re comatose,” said Virginia Edmonds, the zoo’s animal care manager for Florida mammals. “They could drown in 2 inches of water.”
Although the zoo does have flotation devices to support the manatees’ heads, said zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson, “they tend to have seizures, which makes them drown.” So each staffer takes a three-hour shift holding the manatees’ heads up, she said.
One that was brought in Thursday took a long time to recover and start breathing on its own. That meant that “for 29 hours our keepers held a manatee’s head out of the water,” Nelson said.
The problem is what to do with them once they’ve recovered, noted Pat Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. “Right now we just have full pools,” Edmonds said.
Releasing the recovered manatees back into the wild where the Red Tide is would just sicken them all over again.