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A Blue View: A Devastating Year for Manatees

Behind the Scenes of Lowry Park Zoo Manatee Hospital

Back in April, National Aquarium staff paid a visit to the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Hospital in Tampa, Florida, to visit their patients, including manatees recovering from a recent aggressive red tide occurrence.

The manatees being rehabilitated at Lowry Park Zoo are the lucky ones. Red tide toxicity is suspected in more than 265 manatee deaths this year.

The good news is that when found alive, a manatee that is affected by red tide toxicity has an excellent chance of survival.

Red tide treatment involves sitting with manatees until they come out of the coma-like state. One manatee rehabilitated earlier this year took 29 hours to come out of it. When manatees arrive at the hospital, staff has a life jacket and pool noodles ready. These tools are used to support the manatee’s airway. When suffering from this toxicity, some manatees are very mellow, barely moving at all. Others have violent seizures and extremity twitching. Staff stands next to them in shallow water, on constant surveillance until the danger has passed.

Lowry Park Zoo, the only facility in Florida that took in red tide patients this year, has a robust hospital ideally suited to manatee patients. Consisting of two exhibit pools where patients can be viewed by the public, plus three treatment pools with remote controlled floors for medical procedures, all of the manatees at Lowry Park Zoo are patients for reasons such as boat strikes, orphans, cold stress, red tide and entanglement.

Manatee Eating
The manatees recovering at Lowry Park Zoo’s Manatee Hospital eat more than 9 tons of lettuce per week.

Manatee Noodle
Hospital staff use pool noodles and life jackets to help keep a manatee’s head above water while recovering from red tide toxicity.

Manatee Trainer
Lowry Park Zoo staff stay in the water with manatees around the clock until the manatee’s condition normalizes.

Photos courtesy of Lowry Park Zoo.

Lowry Park Zoo
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Red Tide fades; manatee population down about 10 percent, Tampa Bay Times

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