Mote Marine working on treatment for manatees sickened by red tide

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FILE: Manatees swimming as a group. (Credit: WINK News/FILE)
FILE: Manatees swimming as a group. (Credit: WINK News/FILE)

Mote Marine scientists are teaming up with student researchers to look at manatees that have been sickened by red tide.

The team will look at one treatment that could accelerate the recovery for sick sea cows.

“Every year there’s a bloom, we get a lot of manatees that die from exposure to red tide toxins,” said Senior Mote Scientist, Dr. Cathy Walsh.

Walsh is a Mote Marine immunology expert and she says the toxic algae compromises the manatee’s immune system, either killing them or making them susceptible to other illnesses.

And as the toxic algae clings to the Gulf Coast, scientists anticipate having to treat more manatees. Not many survive.

Red tide has killed 30 manatees so far this year, and it is suspected in the death of 100 more.

“What we’re trying to do is come up with better way to treat manatees that are rescued from red tide blooms,” she said.

Walsh is teaming up with a professor at Florida International University, testing new possible treatments for red tide poisoning in the lab before testing on rescued manatees.

Their goal is to make recovery time faster.

They are using a nearly $430,000 grant from NOAA to launch a three-year project. And if that’s successful, the new treatment could save other sea life victimized by red tide such as dolphins and sea turtles.

“It’s likely that it would be something that might be effective across other species as well but we would have to do that research,” Walsh said.

But it starts with saving the manatees.

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