The Manatee Rescue Team was formed in 1988. It grew out of a need for both a faster repsonse time and people who have the knowledge and experience to handle these unwieldy animals. The t eam's sole purpose is to invesitgate reports of sick or injured manatess, determine a course of action, then capture and transport the aniamls if necessary.
The team is made up of the Chassahowitska National Wildlife Refuge staff with the refuge manager as leader. Two local veterinarians are members and they determine what course of action is needed. Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park and St. Martin's Marsh Aquatic Preserve also have team members. The Florida Marine Patrol is usually the first agency notified of a problem and relays that information to the team as well as assists if necessary. A group of volunteers from local dive shops and businesses assist as required. Periodic training along with experience gained from actual responses and rescues has made this a capable and very efficient rescue team.
A typical rescue involves one or two people going to the scene of the report and finding the manatees. All pertinent information is recorded and a decision is made as to what action should be taken. If the manatee problem is valid, the team members at the scene radio the team leader who sets into motion a notification of veterinarians and key team members for assistance. Equipment and other team members are put on standby pending a decision as to whether a rescue is needed. If a rescue is deemed necessary, team members report to the scene. All team members are assigned specific tasks such as diver, boat operator, dispatcher, etc. The manatee is captured by encircling it with a large seine-type net deployed from rescue boat. The net is pulled in toward the rescue boat and the manatee, in the net ,is pulled into the rescue boat. (The stern of the rescue boat is open and almost level with the waterline.) Water is then pumped from the boat, to compensate for the weight of the manatee, as the manatee is transported to the nearest boat ramp. A specially designed manatee lifting sling is placed under the manatee and the manatee is lifted to the transport vehicle. the manatee is then transported to Sea World in Orlando or Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa where a marine mammal recovery unit takes over. A typical rescue with no problems usually takes 1 to 2 hours not counting the drive to Orlando or Tampa.
Manatee numbers are rapidly declining and saving these animals is the rescue team's primary objective. Some the rescued manatees are severly injured or ill and stand little chance of recovery, but the knowledge gained by the rescue team and the marine mammal recovery unit may help other manatees in the future. The rescue team's greatest with is to train and be prepared for a rescue but never be needed.