MELBOURNE, Fla. — Six manatees got trapped in a small backyard pond fronting Crane Creek after Hurricane Irma struck, and about 40 people worked feverishly Friday to rescue the sea cows and return them to the wild.
The manatees entered Indialantic dentist Rene Alvarez's pond on Bignonia Street after Irma boosted the creek's water levels, flooding much of his property. When the water receded, the manatees could not escape.
The rescuers pulled out a manatee calf and its mother, three adults and one juvenile, said Bill Greer, a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission research associate.
By 10:30 a.m., biologists and volunteers were caring for the year-old calf and an adult weighing roughly 1,000 pounds beneath a pair of white shade canopies. These were the first two manatees hauled out of the pond.
"We're working on capturing them, getting them up, doing a quick health assessment on them. And then the goal is to hopefully release them right back in the creek, as long as everything looks good during the health assessment," Greer said, standing near the manatees.
The calf measured about 5 feet long, and the adult manatee thrashed about in a net before volunteers could haul it ashore. Biologists performed blood draws, took urine and fecal samples, and measured the mammals' heart and breath rates.
After the health exams, the animals were returned to the creek, which connects to the Atlantic Ocean.
Alvarez has lived at his waterfront home since 2007. He said much of Crane Creek nearby silted in during Tropical Storm Fay in 2008, and some felled trees from Hurricane Matthew still remain in the waterway — limiting the manatees' potential travel routes.
He said he has alerted Melbourne officials about the increasingly non-navigable creek, but nothing has happened.
"The city treats it like a drainage ditch," he said.
Alvarez said his backyard pond acted "like a buffet" for the plant-eating manatees.
Personnel with FWC, SeaWorld Orlando, Brevard Zoo, the University of Florida, Melbourne police and other agencies descended on the pond to rescue the trapped manatees.
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