OERS sent 2 teams (Dec ‘08 and Jan ‘09) to assist the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the Save The Manatee group during their annual health assessment studies of the threatened Florida manatee in Crystal River, Florida. These 2-3 day studies were done under the leadership of internationally renowned manatee expert Robert Bonde of the USGS.
These health assessments are an unbelievable feat of coordination of a variety of NGO’s with diverse expertise from veterinarians, veterinary technicians from the University of Florida veterinary school to researchers who are having samples collected for their own studies involving genetics, microbiology and other aspects of manatee health.
In addition, the core Bonde team of experienced manatee handlers provided the expertise to train those of us with less experience as we got on-the-ground training in how to properly assist with the safe capture, handling and release these mighty creatures.
All this is being done for the purpose of monitoring the health of the population of wild manatee and determine how well they are doing and what if any health issues they may be facing.
These studies included a variety of physiological measurements such as basic sexing, weighing, body size measurements, blood and tissue samples, ultrasound scans to determine fat content, and urine/fecal samples. As well the weather created its’ own difficulties with storms moving in and out of the area during both deployments!
Nesime Askin one of the OERS Directors and OERS Volunteer Co-Ordinator, Luke Tan made up the first team and on the second team were Drs Carin Wittnich and Mary DeCaire, both OERS veterinarians. The OERS teams received expert training and ‘in the field’ experience handling large wild manatee who were not always cooperative.
Everyone who deployed learned the basics including the seemingly mundane chore of picking up rocks on the beach to make sure there were no objects that could injure the manatee when brought to the location, which was appreciated by the humans as well when rolling around in the knee deep mud restraining 1,000 lb manatees who would rather have been basking in the hot springs nearby!
The teams learned the importance of keeping these sensitive animals warm as the temperatures were rather cold on the days these studies were done and manatee are susceptible to hypothermia.
They assisted with all the sample collection and monitoring of the animals vital signs, including breathing and supplementing with oxygen as needed. The skills alone needed even for the initial capture was valuable to learn and that included both beach and boat releases.
We were pleased to be a part of this very crucial research initiative. OERS is honored that after our teams returned, the USGS has invited us to send volunteers on all future manatee health studies, which we look forward to assist them with.