The manatee dies during a rescue attempt; officials urge the public to help
Following the death of a manatee they were trying to save, mobile area rescuers are urging people to report sightings of vulnerable marine mammals, especially if they appear sick or in distress.
Manatees tend to migrate north and west along the Gulf Coast during the warmer months of the year, venturing into the Mobile area. If they fail to return to a warmer habitat on the Florida coast before winter arrives, they may find themselves stranded in waters too cold for them to tolerate.
It appears to be part of a manatee problem that caught the attention of rescuers last week, although the animal was found to have several other issues affecting its health.
According to information released Tuesday by the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, a fisherman reported sighting a manatee on Jan. 24 in Theodore Industrial Channel, south of Mobile, off the west shore of Mobile Bay. A team of employees from Sea Lab’s Manatee Sighting Network and the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network determined that the animal needed help.
“The animal had skin discoloration which may be a sign of cold stress and was actively swimming but was unable to leave the area, making rescue a good option,” the DISL/ MSN, Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael. “We are always concerned about cold stress mortality at this time of year when water temperatures may be too cold for manatees to survive in Alabama.”
A rescue attempt began on January 26, “under the direction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service”. DISL/MSN staff and partners from SeaWorld Orlando and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission take the manatee to a boat, where he was treated by a veterinarian, but died on the way to a rehabilitation center .
An autopsy revealed the nine-foot-long male was in poor condition.
“While cold stress could have been enough to cause the manatee’s death, in this case there was more to the story. The manatee also suffered from chronic heart failure which resulted in severe lung disease,” said said Sea Lab veterinarian Dr Jennifer Bloodgood “This condition would have made it very difficult for the manatee to breathe and could have been exacerbated by cold water temperatures. Additionally, a plastic bag was found blocking the animal’s esophagus and likely preventing it from swallowing food.
“In this case, prompt reporting allowed us to quickly enter the scene with the manatee and work with our partners to initiate a rescue operation,” Carmichael said. “Although this was not the outcome we were hoping for, our quick response may have given this animal the best chance of survival.”
Rescuers say it is especially important to report sightings during the winter months. Members of the public are asked to report sightings as soon as possible by calling 1-866-493-5803. If animals appear sick or in distress, choose the “urgent” reporting option when prompted. Non-emergency sightings can also be reported online at manatee.disl.org.
For more information on manatees in the mobile zone and recommendations on how to safely share waterways with protected marine mammals, visit manatee.disl.org.