Florida wildlife rescuers brace for manatees living, breathing, eating toxic red algae

Manatees can fall comatose, drown within 24 hours of eating toxic algae

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

SeaWorld Rescue teams work to help a manatee exposed to the toxic algae blooms on Florida's coasts. (Photo: SeaWorld Orlando)

ORLANDO, Fla. - Manatees and other wildlife living in Florida's coastal waterways infected with toxic red algae blooms are at risk of falling comatose and drowning. Florida wildlife rescue groups are bracing as the red tide on Florida's Gulf Coast is expected to last into next year, SeaWorld Rescue team members said this week.

Groups including SeaWorld Rescue, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership are working daily to save wildlife living, breathing and eating the harmful algae, known as Karenia brevis.

Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties are now seeing high concentrations of the toxic algae blooms, according to a FWC map released on Tuesday.

Loggerhead turtles and manatees are also washing up on the east coast in West Palm Beach, The Palm Beach Post reports. Necropsies will have to be performed to determine if they were killed by the effects of red tide.

Ten manatees suffering from red algae exposure are being treated at SeaWorld's critical care facilities, which is equip to handle critical cases of Karenia brevis exposure.

"SeaWorld is treating the most critical cases inside our specially designed med pools, with rescue teams providing around the clock care and using foam pillows to prop manatees’ heads above water so they can breathe in fresh oxygen to ensure a speedy recovery," SeaWorld Orlando said in a blog post with a video of a manatee being treated for red tide exposure.

The sea cows can fully recover if they are rescued and treated within 24 hours of eating the toxic algae, according to FWC.

SeaWorld Orlando has used its facilities to treat more than 46 critical manatees in the last year. That's why rescue groups are bracing for more red tide-related treatments as the algae blooms are expected to continue into next year.

More than halfway through this year, 515 manatees have died in Florida. For the entirety of last year, 538 manatees died, according to FWC.

Anyone who sees a marine animal in distress is asked to call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

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