It was mid-morning around 10 AM on August 24th, when Brittany Piersma, an FWC shorebird biologist, was returning from the tip of Sand Dollar Island when she spotted a stranded manatee in the Tigertail Lagoon. A quick call to the FWC Marine Mammal Rescue (MMR) and FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline (1-888-404-3922) made all the difference.
According to Piersma, since we had an extremely low tide with the storms, the water was rushing out too fast for the manatee to make it back to deeper water. Piersma made sure the manatee was breathing as she kept the manatee cool with water until help arrived.
Piersma also called Jean Hall, an AWE shorebird steward to come and help and to bring a bucket and some sheets. Twenty-five minutes later, Hall arrived. Jessica Conroy, an FWC Law Enforcement Officer, also arrived at the scene along with a County Park Ranger. They all proceeded to bail water over the manatee and the draped sheets protected it from the hot sun. Beachgoers also offered to help with towels. Piersma dug a trench around the manatee to keep the pool of water contained.
In the fury of activity, the initial rescue team—Piersma, Hall, Conroy and the County Park Ranger—received warning that a severe thunderstorm was headed their way. They all quickly left the beach and took refuge at the Tigertail concession building to wait for the storm to pass by.
Around 1 PM, the Marine Mammal Rescue team arrived from Port Charlotte and the femalebiologists proceeded to assess, measure and check for scrapes, bumps and vital signs. Several beach walkers helped do a “gender roll” and determined she was a female measuring 10.5 feet long and weighing about 900 pounds. The manatee was judged to be in pretty good health and would not need transport out of the lagoon. The MMR team decided to wait for high tide to help the manatee.
At 5 PM, seven hours after the discovery of the stranding, high tide came in and the rescuers walked the stranded manatee out of the shallows to deeper waters and watched her swim away. To the MMR rescue team of Hada Herring, Emily Davidson, Megan Krzewinski and everybody involved, it was a happy ending to a long day.
According to Carol Lyn Parrish, the Public Information Director for the FWC, this was a tidally stranded manatee. This occurs when manatees are in shallow areas and the tide recedes.
This area of Tigertail Lagoon is very shallow and narrow, and according to a March 2018 report by Humiston & Moore Engineers and Turrell Hall & Associates, the lagoon has a restricted tidal flow from the north end.
On July 22nd, the FWC MMR team also responded to a stranded manatee in Marco Island. This manatee calf was stranded under a boat dock. This too had a happy ending with the calf being transported to Zoo Tampa.
Parrish cautioned that you should never try to push a stranded marine mammal back out to sea if found stranded on the beach. The stranded manatee could be injured and pushing an animal back to sea could delay or hinder the chance for a rescue team to assess and provide treatment if needed.
Manatees are Florida’s official state marine mammal and are listed as endangered at the international level. They are listed as threatened at the Federal level and at the State level andare protected by Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and by the Endangered Species Act.
To report a sick, injured, stranded, dead or tagged manatee, please call FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline number 1-888-404-3922, press “7” for an operator, or from your cellphone, *FWC or #FWC.