TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Two orphaned manatees are calling ZooTampa home for the time being until they grow enough to be released back to where they were rescued.
Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, senior vice president of animal health, conservation and education at the zoo, said the orphaned babies are doing “very well” and came to the facility as “practically brand new babies.”
They were rescued from Palma Sola Bay near Bradenton and Pine Island Sound in Lee County.
“We’re also really happy that they have each other because they… hang out together… they’re doing really, really well,” Dr. Stringfield said.
There are five federally permitted acute care facilities for manatees in Florida, including the zoo, as well as SeaWorld Orlando and Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park.
“I think we’re all seeing this horrible footage and some people are living are living it real time right now, of all the different sea life, dead fish, dead horseshoe crabs, all these animals that are being affected by the [red tide] bloom that’s going on right now,” Dr. Stringfield said.
Manatees can be released based on guidelines set forth by FWC, including age and weight. Manatees are most often released where there are originally rescued, though that is based on quality of feeding locations, fresh water and warm water sites for winter.
“Orphaned manatees with limited or no experience in the wild will be released at warm water sites during the winter with other manatees,” FWC states on its website.
ZooTampa currently has no timeframe or exact location for the baby manatees to be released.
As of July 23, FWC preliminary reported 866 manatee deaths throughout the state, a record since 2013.
With the red tide bloom in the Tampa Bay area, the zoo is preparing for more manatees to come through its manatee hospital, where it is almost at capacity with 20 manatee patients, including one recovering from effects of red tide.
The zoo and its crews are “on call 24/7,” according to Dr. Stringfield, and have been for a few other animals that have been sighted, but rescue crews have not been able to find after the animal was spotted.
It is illegal to give manatees food, even lettuce. There are different ways for the public to help save these gentle giants here in Florida.
To report a distressed or dead manatee, Floridians and visitors can go online to the FWC website or call 888-404-FWCC. Cell phone users can also call #FWC or *FWC.