A manatee calf was left orphaned Monday when her mother died while being transported by wildlife officials after the adult marine mammal sustained fatal injuries from a boat.
Carly Jones, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said in an email the manatees were found near the main spring in Kings Bay, in Crystal River. Wildlife officials received public reports of an injured mother manatee on Sunday and Monday. Staff at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge specifically created for the protection of the Florida manatee, and wildlife commission volunteers stayed with manatee pair Monday while a rescue team was in transit, Jones said.
Kristana — the female calf named for where she was found — is receiving rehabilitation care at ZooTampa, the wildlife commission said in the tweet.
“She is doing well,” Melissa Nau, a veterinarian and senior director of animal health at the zoo, said. “Right now she’s adjusting and she’s getting supportive care, especially since she did just lose her mom.”
Nau said Kristana’s mother was taking great care of her, and the calf is in good condition. Caretakers at the zoo will help transition the 1-year-old calf to an all-forage diet because she’s old enough to stop nursing, Nau said.
The zoo’s goal is to get Kristana back in the wild within a year, but it depends on how fast she grows. However, for now, the staff has to make sure the calf hasn’t sustained any injuries. Often, when a mother is hit by a boat, her calf may have underlying issues, Nau said.
“We always want to make sure the calf is healthy and didn’t suffer any injuries that were sustained from a boat as well,” Nau said.
Boat strikes are one of the most common causes for manatees to be harmed and in need of rescue, especially on this coast, Nau said. Injuries caused by boats are often so severe that they can cause significant damage to a manatee’s chest cavity and can lead to chronic problems that can be fatal.
“We just really want people to understand the importance of their individual boater safety, and that these things are really easy and important to follow,” Nau said. “It’s not just for human safety, but it really helps make a direct impact on saving and protecting manatees.”
Preliminary mortality data from the wildlife commission finds that at least 760 manatees across Florida have died from Jan. 1 to Dec. 2. Of those 760, 74 were related to watercraft collisions, according to the data.
In mid-November, wildlife officials announced that for the second year they would feed wild manatees lettuce to curb starvation from a human-caused lack of seagrass. In 2021, a record 1,100 manatees died, many from starvation or severe malnourishment due to a lack of food.
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“If everybody can follow those (boater safety) rules, we can make a huge difference in the health of the animals in the wild,” Nau said. “Make sure that they’re safe from these injuries because they can, unfortunately, claim the life of the manatee — like we saw with this mom.”