Hurricane Irma Beached Manatees Beached In Manatee County

Manatee County is a county in the state of Florida. As of the 2010 census, the population was 322,833. As of September 10, 2017, the population of beached manatees numbered two, as a direct result of Hurricane Irma blanketing most of Florida’s west coast.

The county established in 1855 was aptly named for the  manatee (commonly called a “sea cow” and distantly related to the elephant.) It’s endangered and Florida’s official marine mammal. They are known to live in shallow, calm rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas. However, manatees are able to move from fresh to salt water with no problem, except when that shallow water dries up.

Waiting on the storm . . .

On Sunday, September 10th, Hurricane Irma was still 100 miles away from Tampa but had already sucked the water out of the shallow Sarasota Bay, a prime habitat for manatees.

Dave Bristow, a public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, told NPR that it was "a bit of a lull" for law enforcement as the department waited for the hurricane to arrive.

However that quiet before the storm was soon disrupted.

"From what I understand, [local] deputies got word that these two manatees were stranded and they just went out there and did what needed to be done," Bristow said.

The deputies, which had no special training, "just used common sense. It's not like you can nudge these guys over. They are really heavy."

The weight of the matter . . .

A full-grown mature manatee can weigh in at 1,000 pounds, so relocating one is no small task.

"Under normal circumstances, they would never beach themselves voluntarily, so it's an animal that could be compromised by a situation like this," Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium in Baltimore noted.

"Normally, if we have to move a manatee, we would use a sling similar to the way you've probably seen dolphins moved," Cover asserted.

At the end of the day, county officials and two Manatee County sheriff's deputies helped move the manatees onto tarps so these majestic creatures could be dragged into deeper water where they could once again maneuver on their own. 

Hopefully these manatees will never experience this type of life-or-death situation again. But should that ever be the case, at least the authorities manatees can be assured that county that bears their name can turn this type of crisis around quickly and successfully.

Primary Source: Dolphin Research Center