By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Newspapers and TV newscasts occasionally cover human interest stories about heroic firefighters rescuing a cat from a tree or a dog stuck on a roof.
In recent years, however, first responders have been called upon to save larger, more unusual animals – without the use of ladders. First responders are being called to beaches from Florida to Massachusetts to rescue manatees, also known as sea cows.
Three Manatees Rescued in Clearwater, Florida
Recently, members of the Clearwater, Florida, Fire and Rescue Department helped rescue three manatees that became stranded on the beach. The misplaced mammals were safely nudged back into the Gulf of Mexico not on a fireman’s carry, but by the combined efforts of first responders and local residents.
Not all manatee rescues occur on a sandy beach, however. In February 2015, the Satellite Beach Fire Department near Melbourne, Florida, freed at least 17 manatees stuck in a storm drain, fire captain Jay Dragon told ABC News.
Dragon said crews from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, the Satellite Beach fire and police departments and the city’s utility companies went into the culverts where the manatees were trapped.
Manatees Were at Risk of Drowning in Culverts
With rain in the forecast, the rescuers’ concern was that the manatees could drown if the culverts filled with rainwater. A five-member team from SeaWorld in Orlando helped lift them out and released them back into the water, officials said.
Manatees are very curious animals, too curious for their own good at times. They will occasionally swim into storm drains, but because a culvert gradually narrows, some of the larger animals can get wedged and stuck, Ann Spellman, a marine biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) told ABC News.
“Even if only one gets wedged in the pipe, others following it cannot get out because they cannot swim backwards and don't have room to turn around,” Spellman explained.
After the rescue, Satellite Beach authorities installed grates on the culverts in the area to prevent other manatees from swimming in and getting stuck.
Rescuers Save Pregnant Massachusetts Manatee
Manatees are concentrated in Florida, but they are increasingly found in the summer in the waters off Massachusetts, some 1,400 miles away. In late August 2016, an 800-pound pregnant manatee was found on a beach on Cape Cod. She was exhausted and near death.
The manatee was first sighted in late August, swimming in Nantucket Sound near Falmouth. According to a statement from the Mystic Aquarium, “Officials became increasingly concerned for the mammal’s well-being as September approached and water temperatures continued to drop. It became evident that the animal would require relocation to a warmer climate.”
IFAR transported the manatee to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. IFAR Program Director Katie Moore said, “When we collaborate across fields, we can save even more animals.”
“The timing of the rescue was key,” the Falmouth Patch reported. “Manatees often cannot survive in the water temperatures dips below 68 degrees.” On the day of the rescue, the water temperature in Falmouth was exactly 68 degrees.
IFAR also arranged for the U.S. Coast Guard to fly the manatee to SeaWorld.
Florida has an excellent record of rescuing manatees. In 2016, 22 manatees were rescued from entrapment in manmade structures. None died, according to the Preliminary Manatee Rescue Table, prepared by the FFWCC and other marine life organizations. In 2015, 28 of 29 manatee rescues were successful.
The Save the Manatee Club and the North Florida Ecological Services Office are among several groups whose mission “is to rescue and treat sick or injured manatees and then release them back into the wild.”