Ailing manatee calf rescued near marine science lab in St. Petersburg

Published March 28, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — A manatee calf apparently suffering from cold stress was rescued by state biologists Wednesday when it surfaced in Bayboro Harbor near the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. It was taken to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for rehabilitation.

The calf, measuring about 4 feet long, was spotted about 8:30 a.m., according to Kevin Baxter of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, the state marine science laboratory, which is also on Bayboro Harbor. Lowry experts estimated the calf's age to be about a month old.

Manatees, particularly young ones, are susceptible to stress when the water temperature dips below about 65 degrees. They develop lesions on their bodies and they surface rapidly, trying to catch a breath. The calf found Wednesday was popping up about every 15 seconds rather than every five minutes, Baxter said.

A rescue crew from the state lab netted the calf and took it to Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa for rehabilitation, Baxter said. The crew tried to capture its mother, but she wouldn't come close enough to be caught, he said.

The 90-pound male calf arrived at Lowry Park Zoo about 1 p.m. in critical condition, said Rachel Nelson, zoo spokeswoman. The manatee was put in a heated pool and will be fed by bottle. Nelson said the staff will be keeping a constant eye on the calf to watch for further signs of distress in breathing and behavior.

Florida's manatees have been on the federal endangered species list since the first list came out in 1967. The population is now estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000. So far 207 have been killed by Red Tide around Lee County this year, breaking all records, while more than 80 have been killed in Brevard by a mysterious ailment.

Craig Pittman can be reached at