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Manatee recuperating at Lowry Park Zoo after near-fatal collision with boat

TAMPA — The manatee's large gray body was left bloody and split open in the back. A chunk of tail was gone.

She had been hit by the manatee's biggest threat: a boat.

The 1,285-pound manatee was taken two weeks ago to Lowry Park Zoo for treatment, and officials said Wednesday they hope her suffering serves as a reminder to boaters to be aware of manatee zones, especially during the busy Memorial Day weekend.

For a month, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials tried to catch the manatee near Englewood in south Sarasota County. This was not the first time she was hit: They knew her by her scars.

Her tail wound was catastrophic, said Ray Ball, director of medical sciences at the zoo. Her split tail exposed vertebrae and slowed the functioning in her gut. The spinal injury led to a slow infection, and she suffered severe anemia and pneumonia. In the wild, she would have died.

Up to a quarter of manatee deaths in Florida stem from injuries with watercraft, according to the commission.

On Wednesday, at the zoo's David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital, the manatee was raised out of a warm pool for treatment. Zookeepers were trying to keep her stable. Ball rinsed her bloody tail.

Crouched near the manatee's head, Tanya Ward, a mammal zookeeper, said the manatee's skin was textured like a basketball or a tire. At her tail, the gray skin gave way to a gruesome, fleshy wound.

Zookeepers used cloths soaked in a sugar solution to clean the manatee's infected wound. The manatee opened and closed her eyes while she was treated. Sometimes, she let out a deep breath and flared her nostrils.

Her recovery could take all summer or longer, Ball said, but she is expected to survive.

"She's shown a lot of resilience," Ball said. "I'm actually a lot more optimistic than when she first came in."

It's not clear if the manatee will be able to keep what is left of her tail, Ball sad. Her bone is exposed, making treatment very difficult.

But she is recovering, and biologists have said some manatees do well in the wild even without a full tail, Ball said. The manatee would likely be released near where she was found in the Englewood area.

Manatee hotline

To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's hotline, toll-free at 1-888-404-3922.

Manatee recuperating at Lowry Park Zoo after near-fatal collision with boat 05/25/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 27, 2011 11:20am]

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