Tips From Citizens Who Have Assisted In The Rescue Of A Red-Tide-Affected Manatee

In early April, Dr. Charles O’Connor and his wife, Cindy Bear, came upon a red-tide-affected manatee near Jug Creek and Calusa Island in Lee County, Florida. The couple called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and then remained with the manatee until FWC staff arrived. Photos from the incident are located below.

Many thanks to Dr. O’Connor and his wife and to all other volunteers and rescue and rehabilitation staff who have been working so hard to rescue and care for the red-tide-affected manatees in southwest Florida. We want to share what they have learned in this process:

  • A manatee experiencing red tide neurologic poisoning will be disoriented, susceptible to boat collision, and can drown or aspirate water as a result of seizures that occur.

  • The symptoms of red tide seizures are distinct in manatees. They have difficulty lifting their head to breathe, and the fluke, or tail, stays vertical longer than typical. The red-tide-affected manatee may seem disoriented and slow, their breathing may have a gurgling sound, and they may try to beach themselves.

  • Please IMMEDIATELY call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922, #FWC or *FWC on your cellular phone, or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio to report a manatee in distress. It is possible for a manatee to recover from red tide poisoning, and rescue staff may be able to transport the animal for veterinary care.

  • Because paddlers are moving at a slower pace than other boaters, they may be more likely than others to note these red tide effects on manatees. If a paddler does encounter a manatee experiencing red tide impacts and seizures, they should stay with the animal to prevent a power boat collision and to assist FWC staff with locating the animal when they arrive.

Red-tide-affected manatee Red-tide-affected manatee
Red-tide-affected manatee Red-tide-affected manatee

Photos from Dr. O’Connor and his wife show the red-tide-affected manatee. The last two photos show a distinctive seizure posture, as does the manatee’s tail in the air. (Photos courtesy Dr. Charles O'Connor.)

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