TAMPA, Fla. – In 2013, a preliminary record number of 270 wild manatee deaths have been associated with an algae bloom known as red tide in Southwest Florida waters. Through extensive response efforts of The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its partners, 16 manatees overcome by the toxin were able to be rescued, clinging to life. Each was transported to the David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo for critical care,where all but one survived. The 15 red tide survivors will soon be returned to Florida waters, starting with two on June 13.
Among the first to go home will be “Cida,” a 605-pound female who arrived March 22 from Placida Harbor. Cida will be the 176th manatee released after rehabilitation at the Zoo from a total of 320 treated, with 12 current patients. A second manatee known as “Gibb,” a 1,058-pound male who received urgent care at the Zoo upon arrival on October 26, 2012 from Placida Harbor, will be released by staff at Sea World Orlando where he has been housed since March 6 to ensure the Zoo’s manatee hospital facility had space to accommodate critical care patients.
The manatee hospital at the Zoo is the only critical care facility to treat manatees sick from red tide during this bloom. Of the 15 red tide survivors, 10 of those animals are currently housed onsite at the Zoo. Three others were previously transferred to Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and two to Sea World Orlando, where they will reside until release.
The Zoo has now taken in 320 manatees for critical care and rehabilitation since 1991 for a variety of severe illnesses and catastrophic injuries including boat strikes, cold stress, orphans, entanglement and red tide exposure. In 2012, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo was honored with a “Significant Achievement in North American Conservation Award” for its work with manatees, presented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).