Florida Keys

A boat badly injured a Keys manatee. Miami Seaquarium is nursing her back to health

Spookey the manatee was found with severe injuries to her tail paddle Sunday near Plantation Key in the Upper Florida Keys.

The culprit is a boat propeller strike, like it is with so many manatee injuries throughout Florida.

“It was a result of a boat versus manatee, and unfortunately, the manatees always lose,” said Chris Plante, curator of the Miami Seaquarium where Spookey — so spelled because it’s October and because she was found in the Keys — is being rehabilitated.

The seven-foot young adult female marine mammal was rescued Sunday by staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and staff and volunteers from Keys aquariums and marine mammal attractions Dolphin Research Center, Dolphins Plus and Aquarium Encounters.

She’s now at the Seaquarium on Virginia Key where she’s healing and receiving a steady round of medications, including antibiotics to treat her infected wound.

On Friday, Seaquarium staff fed her “lettuce tacos,” leaves of lettuce smeared with a high-calorie gel that contains the antibiotics.

Leah Brewer, a veterinarian technician at the Miami Seaquarium, prepares an antibiotic mixture that is smeared on lettuce to be given to an injured manatee on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. David Goodhue/dgoodhue@flkeysnews.com

“We just mix the meds in there, and it works really well,” said Leah Brewer, a veterinary technician at the aquarium.

From the looks of it, Spookey was enjoying her supplemented snacks. She scarfed down the tacos as fast as Brewer and Tiffani Bolen, an animal care keeper, could throw them. And, the more of them she eats, the better for her, because that means she’ll have to receive less medication through needles.

“She’s been taking these tacos great, which is so helpful,” Brewer said.

Floating with Spookey in the large rehabilitation pool were two other rehabbing manatees, Chickita and Rolo. They all appear to get along well. But because she has company, during feeding time Brewer and Bolen have to make sure only Spookey is getting the tacos.

Spookey, a seven-foot female young adult manatee, floats in a recovery pool at the Miami Seaquarium with a large chunk of her tail paddle gone from a boat strike. David Goodhue/dgoodhue@flkeysnews.com

“We’ll try to throw it as close to their face as possible, so the first thing they’ll grab is the leaf that has that in it,” Bolen said. “It’s the first thing they see, so usually it will be the first thing they eat.”

How long Spookey will stay at the Seaquarium before she can be released back to the wild is not known, Plante said. The aquarium’s veterinarian staff said her wounds are still significantly infected, and she’s going to have to learn to function without the use of most of her paddle.

“So, she’ll be with us for quite some time, as we rehabilitate her and make sure she gets all the medications that she needs, and hopefully, we’ll be able to release her back out into the wild,” he said.