ZooTampa manatee care center almost at max capacity, sees first red tide patient

Red Tide

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – ZooTampa is preparing for a possible increase of manatees at its critical care center, which is already almost at capacity, as it houses its first red tide patient.

The David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center at ZooTampa is currently home, or temporary home, to a total of 20 manatees. Dr. Cynthia Stringfield, who is the senior vice president of animal health, conservation and education, confirmed the center is “almost,” at max capacity

The manatee impacted by red tide came to the center the night before Hurricane Elsa, and Dr. Stringfield remembers it vividly.

“She came in literally during thunder and lightning and rain, and you can imagine being near these pools and being… near big metal pieces of equipment. [It’s] a little dicey. So I will not ever forget her intake,” she said.

Though the nickname “Elsa” was already taken, the manatee was lovingly nicknamed “Idina,” for the voice behind the beloved “Frozen” character – actress and singer Idina Menzel.

Dr. Stringfield said Idina was a victim of red tide, which is debilitating to manatees and other animals.

Manatees are mammals, like dolphins, and have to rise to the surface to breathe. When affected by the neurotoxin of red tide, manatees become paralyzed, can’t reach the surface and drown.

Thankfully, Idina was rescued and brought to ZooTampa before this could happen.

“She was red tide. Luckily, she was pretty stable, and she’s doing really, really well. We were able to turn her around very quickly,” she said.

Idina is currently the only manatee affected by red tide that the critical care recent has seen. The site has the ability to raise the bottom of a critical care pool to keep a manatee in more shallow water to help their breathing and care. Dr. Stringfield said once a manatee is removed from an algae bloom and in to fresh water, its condition vastly improves.

Dr. Stringfield said the zoo and its crews are “on call 24/7,” and have been for a few other animals that have been sighted but ultimately not found by rescue crews.

Though the center is closing in on max capacity, Dr. Stringfield said there is still “bed space available” in another critical care pool.

As of July 23, FWC preliminary reported 866 manatee deaths throughout the state.

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.

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