Seven manatee Red Tide survivors rehabilitated at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo were returning to Florida waters Tuesday.
Among the group going home to Lee County from the zoo were Lorange, a 400-pound female who arrived Jan. 13; Manlee, an 880-pound male who arrived Feb. 19; Tide, a 550-pound male who arrived March 5; Eel, a 745-pound female who arrived March 6; and Flee, a 905-pound female who arrived March 8. Two additional manatees, known as Cheer, a 480-pound male who arrived Feb. 20, and Threepio, an 860-pound male who arrived Feb. 21, were treated at the zoo, but transferred March 14 to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park in Citrus County. They were also released there Tuesday.
In 2013, a preliminary record number of 272 wild manatee deaths have been associated with Red Tide in Southwest Florida waters. Through efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and its partners, 16 manatees overcome by the toxin were rescued, clinging to life. Each was transported to the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Hospital at Lowry Park Zoo for critical care, where all but one survived.
The zoo is the only critical care facility to treat the gentle, lumbering creatures sick from Red Tide during this season's toxic bloom. Red Tide is caused by a zooplankton, Karenia brevis.