Life for a manatee is tough. Sure, it may look like a lot of grazing and lazy swimming at first glance, but these docile creatures have to contend with boats, tourist harassment, and habitat destruction. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute recently reported that a toxic algae bloom has killed 241 manatees in St. Petersburg, Florida. The number greatly surpasses the previous record of 151 red tide deaths set in 1996. The most recent bloom began last fall in the Gulf of Mexico in a 70-mile area of the coast stretching from Sarasota to Lee County, and it affected a population of about 5,000 manatees.
Red tides happen when naturally occurring algae grow out of control and fill the water with large amounts of toxins. The chemicals are inhaled by manatees when they come up for air and ingested when the poisons settle into the grass they feed upon. The toxins can cause the animals to have seizures that paralyze them, making it a struggle for them to reach the surface for air. Although red tide is no longer detected in the manatees’ habitat, researches believe that algal blooms have destroyed sea grass, changing the feeding patterns of the giant mammals and forcing them to seek other sources of nourishment.
A total of 463 of the endangered species have died this year, not including those who have perished due to red tide. On the Gulf Coast, 12 manatees were rescued and taken to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo to recover from red tide poisoning. Two were sent to Sea World in Orlando, and three others to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The rest found a home at the zoo where they received injections of the anti-toxin atropine and antibiotics. Caretakers had to hold the manatees heads above water to assist their breathing. Many recovered quickly, and remain at the facility.
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