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Starving manatee is rescued and taken to Sea World

Several members of the local manatee rescue team netted a 6{-feet-long male manatee in a canal of the Crystal River on Tuesday after divers noticed that the animal was emaciated and swimming on its side. The ailing sea cow was captured and transported to the Sea World attraction near Orlando for observation and possible treatment.

Those who saw the animal said they were not sure what caused its problem, but speculated that it could have been naturally deformed or suffering from an old injury.

Diana Oestreich, a dive instructor from Bay Point Dive Shop, first saw the manatee while in the water with students late Tuesday morning.

"The class was at the Gator Hole playing with one very friendly manatee when this one swam up," Mrs. Oestreich said. "It was starving. It was just manatee skin stretched over bones."

The animal was swimming sideways using one flipper. It appeared to be nibbling on sea grass but still looked odd, with only half of a rib cage showing through its skin, she said.

"This thing was deformed," Mrs. Oestreich said. "It looked like an elephant-man manatee."

She took the boat to the shore to find a house and call the Marine Patrol. Patrol officers and others from the manatee rescue team immediately responded.

After surrounding the animal in a canal near Three Sisters Spring, the team captured it with a net and pulled it onto the boat, according to veterinarian Mark Lowe, a member of the team. The animal was transferred to a pickup and taken to Sea World.

The animal showed no signs of a fresh injury, but it did suffer from a curvature of the spine, which may have been from an old collision with a boat, Lowe said.

According to a press release from Sea World, the manatee appears to be suffering from chronic injuries, possibly from a boat hit, and secondary infections.

Sea World animal care specialists were treating the animal with fluids and antibiotics, but staff veterinarian Michael Walsh listed the animal in very critical condition with a poor prognosis.

Lowe estimated that the animal weighed 400 to 500 pounds, which is about 200 pounds lighter than it should have been.

"It's rescued and it's on its way to Sea World ... where it can get some intensive care," he said.