BRADENTON, Fla. (WFLA) – Two manatees arrived at The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature’s Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat on Tuesday.
Two female manatees “Viva” and “Collie” came to the Bishop from ZooTampa to receive pre-release conditioning before they return to the wild.
Viva was rescued on Nov. 11 near Captiva Island in Lee County. She was suffering from the effects of red tide.
Collie was rescued from the Gordon River near Naples on June 11.
They joined the museum’s current manatee residents, Felicia and Doscal.
The Bishop is a stage two rehabilitation facility, where manatees go after their critical health needs have been taken care of at a manatee hospital, such as ZooTampa.
“Our role is to help keep our hospitals going… So by freeing up space, hanging on to some animals that are recovered and can’t be released immediately,” explained Director of Animal Care, Virginia Edmonds.
“We’re freeing up space there, but we’re also teaching them some things while they’re here. Generally, we get young animals that are a little naïve to the wild. Those are the ones who have to stay around a little bit longer before release, they have to gain some weight.”
Edmonds was able to tell us a little bit more about Collie and Viva’s injuries.
Collie suffered from pneumothorax, an impact injury. The impact of the boat strike broke one or more of her ribs, which punctured her lung, trapping air in her chest cavity.
She was seen floating on the water and was taken to the zoo for her injury.
Viva was sickened by the K. brevis (red tide) microorganism.
“For manatees, they end up ingesting it. A lot of times, we inhale it, and it cuts off oxygen in the water and kills off fish and that’s how we’re familiar with it. But manatees end up eating it in their seagrass,” Edmonds explained. “And it has a toxin that affects their nervous system. SO they exhibit signs of [seizing] and uncontrollably twitching and uncontrollable movements, usually in their face, facial twitches and in their lips.”
Edmonds said that red tide sickness in manatees is a little like food poisoning symptoms. It takes between 24-48 hours from when a manatee stops eating infected seagrass for the toxins to move through their systems.
The Bishop Museum is able to receive manatees from ZooTampa, SeaWorld, Jacksonville Zoo and Miami Seaquarium.
They are currently at capacity with four manatees total in their habitat, but Edmonds said they are able to take more for a short time during a “catastrophic event.”
“Our filtration could definitely handle it, it would just be a lot of manatees in the pool. And right now these four manatees are eating about 300 pounds of food a day, so it could cost a little bit too for that food budget,” she said.
Hopefully, that will not be necessary, but it has been a busy season for rescuing manatees.
“November was a little bit colder than I think we expected, or manatees expected. It’s those days of longer sustained cold that really affect manatees. In Florida, you know, we’re used to one or two days of cold and then it gets warm again and that’s why we love it here. And that’s why manatees like it too,” Edmonds said.
She said the museum and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will have to see what the rest of winter holds for manatees.
Edmonds also had some advice for boaters who may be on the water for holiday parades this season.
“Wear your polarized sunglasses, watch for noses coming up out of the water, taking a breath. Manatees live really shallow, they eat shallow, and they’re all over the place. So slow your boat in those no-wake zones, they’re important for manatees,” she said.
If you see an injured manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 1-888-404-3922 or by dialing *FWC on a cell phone.