SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. - A FWC veterinarian believes unverified reports of additional manatee deaths in Southwest Florida will push the total number of manatee deaths from red tide in that area into record territory.
Veterinarian Martine Dewit with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says that the previous record was set in 1996, when 151 manatees died after being exposed to red tide.
The phenomenon, caused by algae, leaves a toxin on the manatees' food source.
"The toxin paralyzes the manatee so it is not able to take a breath, to come to the surface, and they basically drown," Dewit said.
Dewit says the red tide bloom, which stretches from Lee County, the hardest hit area, all the way to Sarasota County, has been unusually persistent even after the most of the winter season has passed.
Many of the rescued manatees are recovering at a manatee rehab hospital at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.
Dewit asks anyone who sees a manatee exhibiting unusual behavior to call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline, at 1-888-404-3922.
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