Sea World is turning into a homeless shelter for sea cows during Florida's deadly red tide

US Fish and Wildlife ServiceThere are more than 6,300 manatees in the waters around Florida.

The normally clear waves on Florida’s Gulf coast are a stinky, muddy, brown-red mess this year.

A persistent red tide that came in October continues to plague the waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, killing off sea creatures big and small. It’s even dangerous for people to breathe the contaminated air.

The tide is caused by toxic levels of a sea algae called karenia brevis. Massive blooms of the algae, which occurs naturally at low levels in the ocean, have washed ashore up and down the coast of southwestern Florida. The blooms feed on nutrients like fertilisers that wash into coastal seawater, and thrive in water that is a little bit warm, but not too hot.

The dangerous algae harbours a deadly brevetoxin, which is why red tides are animal killers.

Scientists at the Mote Marine Laboratory say this is the worst red tide they have seen in over a decade. Last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for seven Gulf coast counties.

In addition to fish that suffocate due to the brevetoxin, manatees suffer when they nibble on seagrass that’s been contaminated with the chemical. This red tide has already killed an estimated 92 of them since January, according to Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Last-ditch efforts are underway in Florida to save manatees; nearly a dozen have been taken in for first aid at Sea World in Orlando. When it comes to rescuing and treating sick manatees, earlier is better, according to Sea World – if sick manatees are found in the first 24 hours of intoxication, they have a pretty good chance of making a full recovery. Here’s what the situation looks like:

More than 6,300 manatees call Florida home — an impressive comeback since 1991, when there were just around 1,200 of them left. But 540 manatees have been killed already this year, and more than 17% of those deaths have been attributed to the red tide.

The dead manatee count so far this year already tops the total number reported in 2017.

Manatees are plant eaters; depending on their size, they munch 32-108 lbs of vegetation per day.

SeaWorld Orlando

Source: Sea World

When red tide rolls in, they essentially poison themselves by snacking on seaweed contaminated with the algae.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesDead fish line the shoreline along the Sanibel causeway after dying in a red tide on August 1, 2018 in Sanibel, Florida.

Gretchen Lovewell at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota said infected manatees can appear drunk, doing barrel rolls in the water and spinning in intoxication.

SeaWorld Orlando

Source: ABC 7 News Sarasota, NBC WFLA 8 Tampa

Sea World is one of three facilities federally permitted to do manatee rehabilitation. At least 11 manatees poisoned by the red tide have been transported there for care.

SeaWorld OrlandoRescuers take blood samples from the manatees to learn more about the levels of brevetoxins in their bodies.

Source: Sea World, Sea World Manatee Rehabilitation Area

The sickened manatees are often in a near unconscious state, suffering seizures and facial ticks.

SeaWorld OrlandoRescue workers at Sea World Orlando inject an anti-convulsing agent into a male manatee who was having seizures.

Some manatees get injections of anti-inflammitories and antioxidants when they arrive at Sea World, which helps keep their muscle tissue healthy if they have been out of the water for a while.

SeaWorld OrlandoManatees who’ve been out of the water for a while can be at risk for developing chronic muscle weakness (myopathy).

Sick manatees often need help breathing and staying afloat. This one is using a foam pillow, and rescuers are making sure it keeps its nose above water to breathe in plenty of oxygen.

SeaWorld OrlandoManatees at Sea World use foam pillows to stay afloat.

Unfortunately, the theme park hasn’t been able to save everyone. Two manatees who were rescued from the red tide have died there so far, the company said.

SeaWorld OrlandoThe Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the red tide has killed at least 92 manatees.

Manatees aren’t the only ones who get confused in the algae-plagued waters. Infected sea turtles start swimming in circles and can drown if they’re unable to surface to breathe. More than 110 of them have died so far.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesVeterinarian Dr. Heather Barron, from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife, cares for a Loggerhead sea turtle that was found washed ashore after becoming sick in the red tide on August 1, 2018 in Sanibel, Florida.

Source: Business Insider

The reasons red tides occur are complex, but scientists think that fertiliser runoff probably helps keep the blooms growing when they get close to the shore.

Joe Raedle/Getty ImagesA Goliath grouper is seen washed ashore the Sanibel causeway after dying in a red tide on August 1, 2018 in Sanibel, Florida.

Source: Business Insider

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