By Natalie Strom
The Caxambas boat ramp on Marco Island played host to a team of rescue workers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and The Lowry Zoo of Tampa on July 30. “Caxy,” a manatee injured due to a boat collision in April, was released back into the wild amid a crowd of onlookers who took photographs and even had a chance to pet the manatee before she made her way back to sea.
After receiving a report of an injured manatee near Caxambas Bay on the FWC’s Manatee Hotline, rescuers began the arduous task of reinning in the mammal. “The bottom part of an outboard engine had hit her in the back and had broken her rib. That, in turn, punctured one of her lungs. She had what is technically called a pneumothorax which is when air is trapped in the chest which made it difficult to submerge,” explains Denise Boyd, Research Associate with the Florida FWC’s Research Institute.
“It took us a couple of days to get her in the right location and in shallow water. We needed a very experienced crew for our safety and of course, the animal’s safety as well. It was very complicated,” continues Boyd.
On April 23, “Caxy” was transferred right from capture to The David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Hospital at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo. One of only three facilities in the state that cares for injured manatees, the other two are Sea World and the Miami Seaquarium. “Caxy” spent three months at the zoo, adding 200 pounds to her frame, putting her over 1,000 pounds.
Bringing her back to the same area where the injury had occurred, a crowd gathered in hopes to catch a glimpse of the rehabilitated manatee. Rescue workers placed “Caxy” at the entrance of the boat ramp, giving onlookers a chance to catch more than just a glimpse. “It’s such a unique opportunity to see an endangered species like that up close,” adds Boyd. “I think it does a lot for the public to be able to actually see it and touch it just a little bit before we put it back.” Those in the crowd had the chance to briefly pet “Caxy,” some even touching the white scar that now stretches across her back.
In a tremendous group effort, “Caxy” was picked up one last time and brought down the boat ramp where she quickly glided into the open water. Everyone cheered as she slipped quietly out of sight.
A successful rescue, rehabilitation and return to the wild, such as “Caxy’s” story is unfortunately rare for Boyd and other researchers with the Florida FWC. Many of the calls received through the marine mammal hotline result in salvaging manatee carcasses. Since 1974, mortality statistics have been monitored at a number of FWC research labs throughout Florida. A necropsy, or animal autopsy, is performed on all viable salvaged carcasses to determine cause of death. As of July 27, 229 necropsies have been performed in 2012. Results have yielded five unrecovered carcasses, 68 undetermined deaths, 31 due to natural causes, 16 due to cold stress, 47 were perinatal, 3 due to flood gate/canal locks, 2 due to other human related causes and 57 due to watercraft collisions. In 2011, 453 manatees were necropsied, with 87 of these being due to watercraft collisions.
One of the best ways to reduce collisions with boats and other motorized watercraft is to always be aware while out on the water. Wearing good polarized sunglasses, obeying speed zones and no wake zones and being familiar with manatee “footprints,” or circular disturbances at the water’s surface, are all essential to the mammal’s conservation.
If you see an injured or dead manatee, call the FWC’s marine mammal hotline at 1-888-404-3922. To learn more about manatee research in the state, visit www. myFWC.com