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Ill manatee pulled from Homosassa River

During the weekend, local wildlife officials rescued an ailing juvenile manatee from the Blue Waters area of the Homosassa River and took the 5-foot animal to Sea World.

On Monday, the male manatee's condition was listed as guarded. Although the manatee was eating, which is considered a good sign, a veterinarian said that the swelling the animal was exhibiting was not good.

The sick manatee was first reported to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by American Pro Dive on Friday, but the rescue team could not go after the animal because of stormy weather, said Ted Ondler, acting manager of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

On Saturday, when the weather cleared, the rescue team mobilized the Rock 'n' Rescue, marking the first time the boat donated by the Hard Rock Cafe was used for a manatee rescue.

Crew members found the animal near the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. The manatee's side was swollen and it was breathing rapidly. Although manatees, on average, take a breath every five to seven minutes, this manatee was drawing a breath every 30 seconds to a minute, Ondler said.

The animal also swam erratically.

"When it would submerge, it didn't have any control of its buoyancy," Ondler explained. "It would sort of crash into the bottom."

The manatee rescue team captured the 700 pound animal with a net on the first try and wrestled it into the boat. Ondler said the creature seemed feisty despite his medical problems. It had no signs of trauma, such as propeller marks.

Sea World veterinarians planned to take X-rays and complete other tests today.

Meanwhile, members of the manatee rescue team last week outfitted another manatee, now known as Rachel, with a new tracking belt. The members also took blood samples, completed other tests and then released the creature into the Chassahowitzka River.

Rachel was released April 1 into the Homosassa River. After spending several weeks in the Homosassa, she was moved to the Chassahowitzka, where she would face less contact with people.

Formerly known as Little Chaz, Rachel was hit by a boat in the Chassahowitzka when she was a newborn. She was raised at Sea World.

Ondler said state and federal officials are keeping a close eye on Rachel because this is her first winter in the wild. He said he was encouraged that she seemed to be spending time with other manatees in the river, which is not a traditional wintering area for manatees.

He said he hoped Rachel would follow those other animals to other, warmer areas this winter.