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A boat-wounded manatee rescued Feb. 21 from Fanning Springs is in relatively good health and is scheduled to be a candidate for release into the wild in a few weeks, according to representatives from Sea World Orlando.
About a dozen volunteers and team members from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rescued the mammal after it was noticed that the manatee had a gash on its back and was having trouble breathing. Rescuers took the animal by truck to Sea World for rehabilitation.
“It’s still at our facility and is doing well,” said Sea World communications specialist Emily Winterhalter in a phone interview Wednesday.
The manatee, a large adult male, was in the last week taken off of his feeding tube, Winterhalter wrote in a later email. He has been eating well, and is no longer on medications.
According to Winterhalter, the animal suffered six broken ribs when it was struck by watercraft a day or so before it was rescued. And those ribs still need to heal.
FWC records show that 88 manatees have died in Florida since the beginning of the year, 20 from watercraft. That’s less than half of the 199 manatees found dead the first three months of last year. In 2010, when Florida saw a record low in temperatures, 270 dead manatees were found in January alone, 172 of them attributed to cold stress. A total of 766 manatees died that year, about twice the number reported in 2011. FWC rescued 100 sea cows last year. About 60 were released back into the wild.
Sea World is currently rehabilitating one other manatee, according to Winterhalter. It’s taken care of four since the beginning of the year. The organization, one of three in the state to rehabilitate manatees, has been endeavoring to nurse injured sea cows, more than 400, since 1976.
The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is listed as endangered, and at last count by state agencies in 2011 has a population of at least 4,834. About half of those animals were observed in areas on the west coast from Wakulla River to the Everglades.
Injuries from watercraft and cold stress remain two of the most prominent killers of the aquatic mammals, which can weigh between 800 and 1,200 pounds as adults. Manatee calves orphaned by the death of their mothers are also a concern. Six calves since the beginning of the year are listed as dying due to perinatal issues. A total of 77 calves died last year.
Monica Ross, a biologist with Sea to Shore Alliance, a non-profit organization that partly focuses on tracking once-injured manatees that have been released back into the wild, said nowadays it’s only calves up to their second year that are fitted with satellite tracking devices.
“Orphaned animals have not necessarily learned enough from man to survive,” she said.
Researchers want to make sure the calves, considered high-risk, have learned how to socialize, feed and seek the freshwater they need at least every 10 days. Ross said she is currently keeping tabs on a calf, once suffering from cold stress, last tracked at the mouth of the Suwannee River.