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Officials seek to free elusive manatee in bypass canal

LARGO — Somewhere in the thin ribbon of water that is the Lake Seminole Bypass Canal, a manatee is trying to get free.

Authorities from the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spent Friday searching the mid-Pinellas waterway for the stranded manatee, using an airplane, boats and people on foot.

They had no luck.

In the last two months, there have been numerous manatee sightings in the canal, which runs north-south with Lake Seminole on the west and Starkey Road on the east.

At its southernmost tip, the canal is walled off from the gulf. But during this summer's storms it appears a manatee rode a high tide into the canal. Now it can't get out.

The concern, said Fish and Wildlife biologist Andy Garrett is that dropping water temperatures could endanger the manatee's health.

This time of year, he said, manatees are migrating to warmer waters, including the area around the power plant in Apollo Beach, but this poor manatee is stuck in the canal.

Since Sept. 10, the manatee has been seen at the northern and southern ends of the canal and at points in between. At the southern end, it was seen trying to put a flipper over the wall.

On Friday, someone reported seeing a manatee in the canal near Bryan Dairy Road. But by the time authorities arrived, the manatee was gone.

Three times, authorities have come out to search without success. They hope someone who lives along the canal will call the 24-hour hotline with a tip.

In 2005, Garrett was part of the group that pulled a 670-pound female manatee from the same canal. That was in February and the female was suffering from the cold water.

The amount of time the manatee could safely live in the canal depends in large part on what the weather has in store for us, Garrett said. The water temperature was 68 degrees Friday. A few more weeks as cold as this one, and the manatee could be endangered.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.

>>Fast facts

How to help

Authorities ask that anyone who spots a manatee in the canal call the 24-hour hotline: (888) 404-3922. Ideally, the spotter would call immediately and keep an eye on the manatee until authorities arrive.

Officials seek to free elusive manatee in bypass canal 10/31/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 31, 2008 10:23pm]
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