Volunteers try to comfort a baby manatee they rescued on their first attempt in Allenís Creek.
Photo by LESTER R. DAILEY
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials use netting to rescue a mother and one of her two babies in Allenís Creek.
LARGO Ė In Florida, a manatee in distress is a matter of grave concern. But three of them in peril is an emergency.
Last week, agents of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission found a mother manatee entangled in a crab trap line at the mouth of Allenís Creek. Her two calves were nearby. The agents were able to cut the line to the trap, but the line was so embedded in her flipper that they were unable to cut it and the Styrofoam buoy away.
The smaller of the two babies was still nursing and could not have survived without its mother. The larger one was mostly weaned and might or might not have survived on its own.
The agents had attached a radio-tracking device to the mother and, on April 16, tracked her and her babies to the south branch of Allenís Creek that dead ends at the city park on Keene Park Drive. The agent who tracked them was in a kayak, so she called FWC and had two larger boats dispatched. The smaller of the two boats reached the area, but the larger one was unable to get under the Belcher Road Bridge at low tide.
The plan was for the kayak and the smaller of the two boats to herd the endangered sea cows to the Belcher Road Bridge, where the larger boat would net them. But the manatees instead headed into a cove near the corner of Shore and Seacrest drives. The plan was then changed to driving them into the shallow water of the cove and capture them there, said FWC agents at the scene.
If the line could be removed without badly damaging the motherís flipper, it would be done there. If not, mother and babies would be trucked to Lowry Park Zoo, where veterinarians would surgically remove the rope.
About 15 FWC staffers, and a few volunteers hastily recruited from the neighborhood, set about making the preparations. First, a net was stretched halfway across the cove and an FWC swimmer tried to herd the manatees into it.
On the first attempt, only one of the calves was caught. A second swimmer was added, but the second try was a failure.
On the third try, the baby that had been captured on the first try was put back into the water so its mother could hear its distress calls, and that did the trick. Momma came to the rescue, with the other baby close behind, and both were netted.
The rope was removed without further damage to the flipper, and all three manatees were released to the cheers of FWC staffers, volunteers and onlookers.