A joint effort by several local and state wildlife preservation organizations helped return two manatees stranded in a retention pond at Mobbly Bayou Preserve back to Old Tampa Bay on Monday.
Representatives of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) coordinated the operation to remove the mom and her calf from the connected ponds at Mobbly Bayou Preserve, along with assistance from officials, staff and volunteers from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine and other organizations.
According to aquarium CEO David Yates, the rescue operation had been in the works for weeks and required a collaborative effort in order to ensure the safety of the animals, who became trapped in the ponds after recent heavy rains raised the water level at the spillways that lead to Old Tampa Bay.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates liveblogged the manatee rescue in Oldsmar on Monday, Feb. 6, 2017.
“It’s definitely a collaborative effort,” said Yates, who was liveblogging the event for the downtown Clearwater aquarium, home to the world-famous Winter the Dolphin.
“It’s all about the pre-planning,” he added. “We’ve been working with FWC for about a week on this. They are running the operation, but we all work together as a team on these things to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.”
Smooth is a good way to describe the operation, which began at 8:30 on the Monday morning after the Super Bowl. Well, once it finally got underway, that is.
As the teams of rescuers began to arrive at the preserve, home to Oldsmar’s zipline park, the manatees were spotted lingering near a tube that connects the northeastern-most pond to the network of additional ponds that run along the west side of the property.
Before the rescue operation got underway, the manatees traveled through a connector tube between the retentions ponds.
Before the FWC and other agencies could lay out the massive nets that would help corral the 1,000-pound mom and 500-pound daughter manatee, the pair deftly made the pass between ponds and headed to the center of a 7-foot deep water body, and the chase was on.
Following a pair of unsuccessful attempts that only netted a few fish and a tiny frog, the combination of boaters, swimmers and spotters in the water were able to lure the manatees into the net and slowly move them towards the shore; once they were on land, the rescue effort immediately went into high gear.
“Our job is to evaluate the animals’ health and to determine whether they can be released right back into the bay or if they need to be taken to a facility for treatment,” Dr. Mike Walsh, clinical coordinator of the aquatic animal health program at UF, said.
“This is not a good spot for them because the water is too cold. They like it in the 80s to the high 60s, but once it dips below that, it could kill them.”
Fortunately, once the pair were evaluated under a pair of makeshift medical tents, it was determined that other than the mother being a little underweight due to the lack of adequate food sources in the pond.
Twin medical tents were set up along the shoreline of the Oldsmar retention pond in order to evaluate the manatees to determine what type of treatment-if any-would be needed.
“Mom was a little underweight, and it’ll take her a couple of weeks to put that back on, but the youngster looked really good,” Walsh said.
Dr. Mike Walsh, clinical coordinator of the aquatic animal health program at the University of Florida, administers aid to one of the manatees on Monday.
“Fortunately, the water wasn’t that cold, and we were able to get them out, and now mom will be able to chow down and get back to normal.”
The six-plus hour ordeal was witnessed by a large crowd of interested onlookers.
While the experts explained what was going on to the crowd, many expressed amazement over the massive collaborative effort of the rescuers.
“They really came together to pull this off,” Bill Walton of Safety Harbor, who regularly visits the preserve, said.
“I think it was awesome how they handled it.”
Enjoy this photo gallery of Monday’s manatee rescue effort in Oldsmar: