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CRYSTAL RIVER — Conditions on Wednesday couldn’t have been more perfect for the release of a manatee and her young calf into Three Sisters Springs.
The tide was low and the clear blue water inside the springs was free of swimmers, kayaks and manatees, so the two had time to adjust once the slew of manatee advocates and state and federal agency staffers released them back into the wild.
The release “couldn’t have gone better,” said Michael Lusk, refuge manager of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which manages the Three Sisters Springs property.
Local wildlife photographer Tracy Colson discovered the mother manatee in the springs a week ago with fishing line tightly embedded in her right flipper. At first, rescuers thought she could be treated at the springs, but her wounds were too severe, and she and the roughly three-month-old calf were transported to Lowry Park Zoo. Rescuers believe the same manatee was seen last year with fishing line around its flipper.
Without medical attention, the flipper would have self-amputated, said Dr. Bob Bonde, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Manatees can survive with one flipper; there are even manatees without any flippers, he said. Other than the flipper injury, the manatee and the calf were healthy.
The crowd of about 50 onlookers and rescuers at the springs Wednesday included Helen Spivey, co-chair of the Save the Manatee Club.
“I thought it was so great,” Spivey said about the release. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Also on hand were Mike and Stacy Dunn, owners of the local tour company Manatees in Paradise, who volunteer with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Manatee Rescue Team. The Dunns assisted with the rescue last week.
Mike Dunn said the rescue itself took less than an hour. He also said photos of the animal’s injuries are very graphic, but he feels it’s something the public should see in order to better understand what can happen if anglers aren’t careful.
“It was nasty,” he said.
It’s not uncommon for manatees to get caught up in fishing line; this is the fifth such case to occur at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in the last seven weeks. Wildlife officials hope the rescue will serve as a reminder to anglers to be responsible with fishing gear.
Anglers are asked not to discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees may ingest or become entangled in lines and can suffer injuries or even death, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is illegal to discard monofilament fishing line into the waters of Florida.
Chronicle reporter Amanda Mims can be reached at 564-2925 or firstname.lastname@example.org.