Fla. fire crews help rescue injured manatee

Jacksonville crews were called to help load the 1,328-pound mammal into a truck for transport to a local zoo for rehabilitation


Dan Scanlan
The Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An injured manatee is recuperating after being rescued Wednesday afternoon from Jacksonville's Ortega River.

With 10.5 feet of female manatee to rescue, members of two Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department stations were called in to help load the 1,328-pound mammal into a truck for transport to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens for rehabilitation.

Jacksonville firefighters and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rescue crews load an injured manatee for transport and recovery to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens after its Ortega River rescue.
Jacksonville firefighters and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission rescue crews load an injured manatee for transport and recovery to the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens after its Ortega River rescue.

Pulled ashore at the Wayne B. Stevens Boat Ramp on Ortega Farms Boulevard, the manatee had obvious injuries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Karen Parker said. It was taken immediately to the zoo's Manatee Critical Care Center.

"She's a big girl," Parker said. "... She sustained some watercraft injuries and she was positively buoyant, which means she could not dive or submerge."

The emaciated manatee has numerous slashes across her back, including one long and deep gouge caused by a boat propeller, according to zoo spokeswoman Morgan Purvis.

"She's the largest manatee we've received to date," Purvis said. "... Animal care staff believes she's well over 10 years old, could even be upwards to 30 years or more. It's tough to estimate mature adults' ages if they haven't been rescued and documented before."

The manatee is the latest in an increasing number of manatee injuries the commission has been investigating this year following a record high level of mortalities and rescues along Florida's east coast.

Florida has recorded 905 dead manatees from Jan. 1 to Aug. 6 so far this year. That was a five-year high for the state, including 70 by boat impacts and 19 from cold stress, according to commission manatee mortality figures.

This year's total is already more than double the total 2020 manatee fatality figures of 402 dead — 50 of those from boat impacts and 41 from cold stress.

In this case, apparently someone spotted the injured manatee floating in the water and called it in, Parker said. Commission and zoo staff along with crews from Engine 25 and 23 helped haul the injured mammal out of the river and take it to the zoo's manatee center.

"She immediately started eating water plants and romaine lettuce when she got there," Parker said.

This is the second manatee incident in recent weeks in the Ortega River, Parker said.

On June 30 a female manatee got stuck under a dock at Timuquana Road when its state tracking collar got caught. A calf was with it at the time, Parker said.

"We had an officer go out and untangle her and she saw off," she said. "She was fine."

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, more people are taking to boats for recreation, one possible reason for the increase in manatee injuries and deaths, Parker said. A decline in food, like a die-off of seagrass and increasing algae blooms in waterways, could also be a factor, commission officials said. So with the Labor Day weekend coming up, boaters need to be extra careful in waterways, Parker said.

"We do have the most boats of any state in the nation, so there can be some crowded areas out there," she said. "Around the Jacksonville area, there are manatee zones, and our officers patrol those on a really regular basis. If you don't obey the signs, you will be stopped."

The zoo's Marine Mammal Response Team helps the commission with the rescue and transport of injured marine mammals to rehabilitation centers in Florida, including its own.

The zoo's center has room for about six animals at a time, cared for until they are healthy enough to be returned to safe waters. Purvis said it's unclear how long treatment and rehabilitation will take yet on the newest arrival but said the manatee is eating well, which is "a good sign."

©2021 www.jacksonville.com. Visit jacksonville.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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