De Soto, a 900-pound male manatee, was released back into the wild on Tuesday, May 9, at Eckerd College. On March 17, fishermen near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge reported what they thought was a dead manatee washed up on a sandbar. Eckerd College’s search-and-rescue team responded to the call and discovered that the manatee was, in fact, still alive. De Soto was transported to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo where he was rehabilitated.
“He had elevated red tide toxin levels, which can cause seizures or paralysis in manatees,” said Andy Garrett, an Eckerd College alumnus who works as a manatee rescue coordinator for the Florid Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “He was initially found in poor condition but he recuperated nicely after receiving care at Lowry Zoo.”
After conducting a microchip scan of De Soto, zoo officials discovered that he’d been rescued once before, when he was an orphaned calf, on December 9, 2002. Two years later, De Soto was tagged and released near the Apollo Beach power plant. De Soto’s story, Garrett said, underscores “the importance of calling FWC’s wildlife alert number, 1-888-404-FWCC, to report dead, injured or sick marine mammals.”