The red tide outbreak this year in the Gulf of Mexico has caused the death of more than 150 manatees. While the red tide is battering the lives of manatees living in the waters along the coast of Sarasota county and south of it, it has at not reached the Tampa Bay at the present time. Manatees settling in the discharge canal between the Manatee Viewing Center and Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach, Fla., to escape the colder open waters during the winter months are outside the red tide’s grip for now.
A red tide is a higher-than-normal concentration of a microscopic alga, a plant-like organism. The Florida red tide organism, Karenia brevis, produces a toxin that can kill marine animals and affect the health of humans as well a pets and other animals.
Attacking the central nervous system of fish and other vertebrates, the toxic chemical produced by the red tide can kill marine life and can also poison shellfish, such as clams and oysters. Manatees living in the warmer water of the southern Gulf are at a high risk of falling victim to the red tide and having to fight for their lives.
Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., has taken in 12 manatees suffering from red tide so far. The sick manatees are receiving treatment in the Lowry Park Zoo’s hospital, the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital, the only critical care facility to treat manatees suffering from red tide. The manatees also receive rehabilitation at the hospital before they find another place to stay and live until they can safely return to their natural habitat. Sea World had already acquired two of the surviving manatees from Lowry Park Zoo, and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has offered to take in three more.
The Florida red tide can also show up in bays and estuaries but not in freshwater lakes, rivers and other waterways. Pet owners should keep their dogs and cats away from red tide infected areas to prevent their pets from eating dead fish and from coming in contact with the water to avoid respiratory irritation.
The red tide currently affects about 70 miles of the southwest Florida coast, extending along the shore and inshore of Sarasota County south through the middle of Lee County. According to the website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), people who sight sick, injured or dead manatees should call FWC's wildlife alert toll-free number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or: *FWC or #FWC on the cellular phone and have information available to the following questions:
- What is the exact location of the animal?
- Is the manatee alive or dead?
- How long have you been observing the manatee?
- What is the approximate size of the manatee?
- What is the location of the public boat ramp closest to the manatee?
- Can you provide a contact number where you can be reached for further information?
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