Red tide is believed to be the cause of the deaths of three more manatees this month in the waters surrounding Pine Island.
A manatee carcass was recovered from Pineland Marina on April 6.
On the following day, while out canoeing, Cindy Bear and her husband, Charles O'Connor, encountered a manatee that was showing signs of red tide distress just off the shore of Calusa Island and into the pass between Calusa and Little Bokeelia Island on April 7.
Florida Fish and Wildlife was successful in capturing a manatee, which was showing symptoms of red tide effects on the north shore of Calusa Island at Jug Creek Pass on Sunday, April 7. Unfortunately the manatee died the following day.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Spokesman Kevin Baxter said manatees that are affected by red tide could have seizure-like behavior with involuntary muscle twitches. He said they could also display a lack of ability to control how they are floating by drifting to one side. In addition, the manatees could also show trouble lifting their heads to breathe.
Baxter said they want people to call the manatee hotline at 888-404-3922 as soon as they see a manatee in distress. He said once they call the number, someone may provide further instructions on how to assist the manatee until help arrives.
Bear and O'Connor stayed with the manatee for approximately 2 1/2 hours until Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission arrived April 7.
Bear said it was strenuous and stressful because there was tide, wind and for a time they were sitting ducks wearing their personal floating devices in the channel, so the manatee would not get hit during a seizure or normal surfacing.
Bear said that Florida Fish and Wildlife was able to capture the manatee. Unfortunately the manatee died the following morning at Lowry Park Manatee Rehab Center due to red tide.
A third manatee was recovered Thursday, April 11, near Moyer Lane. Although it was not certain as of Thursday if it was red tide related, Baxter said it most likely was due to the bloom still being in the area.
As of Monday, April 8, Baxter said 256 manatees have died from red tide. The previous record was set during the year of 1996, when 151 manatees died from red tide.
The first documented manatee carcass collected within the known red tide bloom boundary was recovered on Jan. 9 in San Carlos Bay near Sanibel. The second manatee recovery occurred on Jan. 15 in Matlacha Pass near Matlacha.
Since the beginning of the year until April 8, there have been 17 manatees recovered from Matlacha Pass near Matlacha, 25 in Matlacha Pass from Cape Coral, two in Matlacha Pass near Bokeelia and one manatee recovered in Matlacha Pass near St. James City.
There has been one manatee recovered in San Carlos Bay near St. James City as of April 8.
In Pine Island Sound waterways there has been one manatee recovered near Bokeelia, two recovered near St. James City, one near Pineland and three near Cabbage Key.
There has also been a manatee recovered from Jug Creek near Bokeelia as well as Black Bay near Bokeelia as of April 8.
Baxter said the red tide blooms vary in length from a few weeks to many months. He said it is hard to say what causes the persistence of the blooms.
"The first time we documented the (red tide) bloom was at the end of September last year," he said, adding that they did not see a large amount of manatee deaths until this year, which increased in mid February. "All of the deaths have been in Southwest Florida and most of the deaths have been in Lee County."
The large numbers of manatee deaths have occurred where a great amount of manatees gravitate towards during the winter months due to warmer waters, which unfortunately is where the persistent red time blooms are located.
"Red tide is a toxin that can build up on sea grasses and this is an area where a lot of manatees are and feed," Baxter said of the warmer waters, which has caused a great deal of manatee deaths this year.
The warmer waters where the manatees gravitate towards are typically in Southwest Florida. He said manatees are also found in springs, as well as near power plants because of the warm water released.
Now that the water is becoming warmer, Baxter said the manatees are dispersing to other areas and not congregating to one particular area.
"We know that the water is starting to get warmer because the manatees are starting to disperse a little more," he said.
Baxter said knowing that the red tide is still affecting manatees, he asks people to be on the look out for them. Individuals should follow the speed zones in the water and look for signs of manatees in the water, which can be located through a repetitive swirl pattern, as well as the appearance of their snout of the water and their tail surfacing when going back under the water.
He said individuals should proceed with caution in any areas a manatee might be present.