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Injured manatee keeps rescuers busy — and drenched

PALMETTO — Some manatee rescues go like clockwork.

So said Katie Brill of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“We prefer them calm, sedentary,” said the drenched biologist. “But you never know what you’re going to get.”

Like Friday’s adventure.

With TV news helicopters overhead and spectators on the banks, an injured female manatee, weighing between 700 and 800 pounds, eluded capture three times in Terra Ceia Bay.

The state fish and wildlife team finally corralled the massive critter with a 500-foot weighted net on its fourth try.

Even then the manatee thrashed about the 24-foot vessel, causing some team members to go overboard.

Brill was one.

“Each animal reacts differently and you don’t want to get caught between them and the gunnel,” she said.

“It’s easy to get hurt. They can put up a fight, even when they’re injured,” said Kane Rigney, another biologist who went into the drink.

The manatee, of an undetermined age, was eventually loaded onto a panel truck and taken to the Lowery Park Zoo for medical treatment, rehabilitation and eventual release.

Although there were visible gashes on her back, the manatee’s more serious problem was a contusion from a collision.

“Blunt force can do more damage — broken ribs, injured lungs can cause buoyancy issues,” said Megan Heidenreich, a Mote Marine manatee research intern. “It’s what causes it to pop up like a cork. It can’t dive properly and is a large target for boats.”

The rescue attempt actually began Thursday but afternoon storms intervened.

Not Friday.

“Never seen anything like it,” said Mike Bury, one of many onlookers.

“I can’t stand it when animals are hurt but to see them be able to help one is unbelievable,” his wife, Kelly, said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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