Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Manatee rescuers struggle for animals' survival amid red tide

Tampa, Florida (CBS News) -- Manatees are fighting for their lives in Florida. A record number have died in the past two months, in a battle against the very waters they call home.
Ask any Floridian: manatees are whiskered icons in the state. They laze in warm waters, grazing on vegetation and sleeping -- massive mammals that can grow 13 feet long and weigh two tons, but are as gentle as they are big.

Virginia Edmonds, who directs care for Florida mammals at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, said, "(Manatees) don't have a mean bone in their body and they are unique to Florida."

Edmonds said encountering a manatee can be a "pretty magical experience" and, she added, "most people in Florida have run across a manatee at some point."

But for decades, manatees have been endangered. Fewer than 5,000 exist, squeezed out of their natural habitats by human development. Power boat propellers have cut some of them in half. Now manatees face a new killer

It's red tide, a natural algae bloom that has released microscopic toxins that cling to vegetation the manatees eat. Those toxins get into the manatee's nervous system and paralyze them. If they can't come up for air every few minutes, they drown.

This year alone, red tide has killed 181 manatees, a record. The hot zone stretches 75 miles along the coast from Sarasota south to Ft. Myers.

But, according to one expert, it's a very curable situation if the manatees can be reached.

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