Desoto the Manatee Returns to the Gulf
By SHELLY STECK REALE, Correspondent, TB Reporter
Desoto the manatee was found two months ago beached on a sandbar suffering from red tide toxicity. He was treated at the Lowry Park Zoo’s manatee hospital before being released back into the wild.
ST. PETERSBURG – Two months after he was found beached on a sandbar, Desoto the manatee returned home to the Gulf.
Desoto spent those two months at the Lowry Park Zoo’s manatee hospital, the only non-profit acute care facility dedicated to critical care for injured, sick and orphaned manatees.
It was the second time Desoto had spent time at the manatee hospital. Orphaned as a calf, Desoto spent two years being raised at the zoo before being released back into the wild in 2004. In March, fishermen found him beached on a sandbar near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Fearing he was dead, they called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC and the Eckerd College Search and Rescue team headed out to aid Desoto.
“They had prepped us when we arrived on the scene that he would probably start rolling and to be cautious,” EC-SAR team member Kaitlin Taylor, 21, said. “But, when they pulled him on the boat, he did not move. At all. And that’s not a good sign.”
They took him to the manatee hospital.
“We weren’t quite sure why he was coming in,” said Virginia Edmonds, Lowry’s animal care manager. “But, when he arrived we could definitely tell he was exhibiting signs of red tide toxicity.”
Manatees, also called sea cows, are mammals, more closely related to elephants than to dolphins or whales. They were first listed as an endangered species in 1966 but are making a comeback. The FWC says there are more than 6,000 today. Today, manatees are considered one of Florida’s keystone species whose behavior can alert researchers to the environmental and habitat changes that may otherwise go unnoticed in Florida’s waterways for extended periods of time, according to the FWC.
Andy Garrett, a 1999 Eckerd College alumnus and manatee rescue coordinator for the FWC, said elevated toxin levels – like those that come from red tide – can cause seizures or paralysis in manatees.
While in the hospital being treated for toxicity, a microchip scan, along with records of scar patterns, confirmed that Desoto had been to the hospital before. Once again, the hospital staff watched him closely, provided supportive care, and waited for him to gain his strength.
Then on Tuesday (May 9), a warm spring morning, surrounded by FWC officers, Lowry staff, Eckerd College students, and numerous volunteers, Desoto lay belly-up at the water’s edge, snuggling his “wobbie,” a thick, square piece of foam mat he grasped between his flippers for comfort.
“The release is always the best part of what we do,” Edmonds said. “It’s why we’re here; it’s the day we fight for.”
It took nearly 20 staffers to lift his tarp sling and lower the 900-pound manatee into the water. Then, with a snort, he was off and swimming, amid cheers and well wishes.
For information about Lowry Park Zoo, go to lowryparkzoo.org.
Photos by Shelly Steck Reale.
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