A manatee was found in a Key Largo marina Friday with fishing line wrapped so tightly around one of his flippers it looked as though he could have lost the limb.
The manatee was first spotted in the Keys about a year ago, tangled in fishing line, but before anyone could help him, he disappeared. This week, he reappeared, still wrapped in monofilament line. Around noon Friday, someone reported seeing him hanging around the boats at Gilbert's Resort and Marina, and rescuers were called.
The young adult male, which rescuers named Gilbert, was drinking water from a boat's bilge pump at the marina. He had fishing line wrapped around both flippers, and was "hog-tied" with the monofilament all the way down to his tail, said Mary Stella, with Grassy Key's Dolphin Research Center. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission often calls the center to assist in manatee rescues.
Gilbert is about 7 feet, 8 inches long, and weighs around 800 pounds, Stella said. He was first spotted about a year ago, tangled in the line, but somehow managed to get by with it all this time. People began reporting seeing him again this week, the first time he had been seen since last July, Stella said.
The Fish and Wildlife Commission responded with its manatee rescue boat, which is designed with an open gunwale on the stern to more easily bring the sea mammals onboard. Dolphin Research Center staff on kayaks paddled behind the manatee and "encouraged him" toward the FWC boat, Stella said.
These operations can sometimes take hours, but they got Gilbert onto the vessel and to the boat ramp in less than an hour.
Once on shore, FWC, Dolphin Research Center, Miami Seaquarium staff, and volunteers quickly untangled Gilbert, took blood samples, and administered antibiotics, said Dr. Maya Rodriguez, a veterinarian at the Seaquarium.
"He was very badly tangled in a knot of fishing line. The right flipper looked very severe and swollen," Rodriguez said. "But, it didn't break the skin in one section, meaning it didn't completely go around the flipper, so that's a good sign."
That means instead of having to be taken to the Seaquarium to be rehabilitated, Gilbert can recover in the field.
The other flipper was completely encircled by line, but it didn't go as deep. Now that the line has been removed, the swelling will go down and so will the scar tissue. Rodriguez said.
"He's a young animal, so the best thing for him, he did get some antibiotics, he got something for the pain, and we numbed the flipper, so right now, his best bet is to go out there and be active and be a normal manatee," Rodriguez said. "And, with that activity, the swelling will go down even more."
Anglers can also help Gilbert recover by taking care of their fishing line properly.
"The big thing is he doesn't get entangled again," Rodriguez said. "But obviously, that's up to people."