PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (Gray News) – Deputies in Florida went out of their way to hold up a distressed manatee’s head for more than two hours until marine biologists could rescue it.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Deputy Jill Constant with the Marine and Environmental Lands Unity wanted to do anything she could to save the manatee.

The incident happened a few weeks ago when red tide levels were high. Constant got a call from a woman who said there was something wrong with a manatee in the Intracoastal Waterway.

While deputies are used to receiving calls from concerned citizens about manatees that end up being fine, Constant said she immediately knew this animal was in distress.

“We’re watching it, and it will not go underwater. It just stayed at the surface with labored breathing,” Constant said in a news release.

Manatees are mammals that must come up to the surface to breathe. Constant said the manatee attempted to beach itself on the rocks so it wouldn’t drown, and she knew she had to step in.

“We docked the boat, I took off my equipment and got in. We stayed in the water for two hours holding its head up until it could be rescued,” she said.

Although the manatee wasn’t thrilled with being handled by humans, Constant wasn’t going to let it suffer.

“This manatee is going to die right in front of us and I’m not letting that happen!” she said.

Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation later arrived and rescued the manatee, which made a full recovery and was returned to the wild.

In a Facebook post, the sheriff’s office said the manatee was “believed to be suffering from the effects of toxins produced by red tide.”

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, manatees need special protection. There are only about 13,000 West Indian manatees left in the world, of which about 6,000-7,000 live in Florida.

In 2022 alone, some 1,000 of those died from boat strikes, red tide events, or starvation from habitat destruction, the sheriff’s office said.

Most manatees, even young ones, have visible propeller marks from contact with boats. FWC looked at 10 years of information and found that 96% of manatees in that study had propeller scars.

Boat strikes account for about 25% of all manatee deaths.

The sheriff’s office said although manatees are typically gentle, friendly animals that often approach swimmers and boaters, it is against the law to touch them.

“You can’t feed them or even offer them a freshwater hose from your dock. Anything that interferes with a manatee’s natural, wild behavior can put it in danger. Molestation of manatees can be a felony, depending on the degree,” the sheriff’s office said.

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