SeaWorld helps manatees survive toxic red tide

Theme park rescues 47 sea cows so far this year

ORLANDO, Fla. – Thousands of dead fish, crabs, hundreds of sea turtles and sick or dying manatees are all sea life that are affected by the toxic red tide algae blooming in waters along Florida's Gulf Coast.

"It's a neurotoxin, so it's going to affect them, it's gonna produce almost a coma-like state. They're not gonna be able to swim. Sometimes, they're not even breathing on their own," Maggie Mariolis, a member of the rescue team at SeaWorld said about the conditions of the manatees that arrive at the park. 

Not only are these animals left barely moving, in some cases the red tide can cause facial seizures.

Mariolis, is helping these animals in their road to recovery. 

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"If we can reach these animals in time and flush all of those toxins out of their system -- give them a lot of fluids -- we can usually see them bounce back within 24 to 48 hours," Mariolis said.

So far, SeaWorld has received 10 manatees sickened by red tide. Unfortunately, two of those animals died. They arrived in extremely poor condition. 

SeaWorld does expect to receive more manatees as long as the red tide is in full bloom.

[READ: Florida wildlife rescuers brace for manatees living, breathing, eating toxic red algae]

As part of the recovery process, the veterinarians take blood samples. The animals are then given medication and fluids. 

The manatees are first placed in shallow water inside a special pool with a false bottom for the first 24 hours.

"We have pools in our back area where we can lower that water to 6 or 8 inches depending on the size of the manatee ... and we're gonna monitor them 24 hours a day. They're usually unable to swim and they're having those seizures so we want to make sure that they're able to clear their nostrils above the surface of the water so they can breathe comfortably," Mariolis said. 

Within a day or two, the animals show progress and are brought into deeper water alongside other manatees.

There are more than 6,300 manatees in Florida, but they're still a threatened species. They are important to our ecosystem because they eat a lot of the sea grass and help keep waterways clean.

"It's hard to see them come in so sick, but we do our best with every animal to give them the best care we can," Mariolis said.

In 2017, SeaWorld rescued a total of 53 manatees, not all related to the red tide. The rescue team at SeaWorld, believes this year they'll most likely exceed that number. With less than four months until the end of 2018, SeaWorld has rescued 47 of those sea animals.

Officials from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said red tide has killed 103 manatees in 2018 alone.


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