What to do if you live in Florida’s Manatee County waiting on a hurricane? Rescue a few manatees, naturally.
On Sunday, Hurricane Irma was still 100 miles away from Tampa but had already sucked the water out of shallow Sarasota Bay, a prime habitat for manatees — the protected marine mammals also known as sea cows.
Intrigued, Marcelo Clavijo and several friends went out for a drive to take in the strange sight of an empty bay.
He and his buddies, along with two sheriff’s deputies, “ended up saving two manatees,” Clavijo wrote on Facebook.
Clavijo pronounced it: “a pretty cool experience.”
“[We] rolled them on the tarp and then dragged them a 100 yards,” he wrote.
Dave Bristow, a public information officer for the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, tells NPR that it was “a bit of a lull” for law enforcement as the department waited for the hurricane to arrive.
“From what I understand, the two deputies got word that these two manatees were stranded and they just went out there and did what needed to be done,” Bristow says.
The deputies, which had no special training, “just used common sense,” Bristow says. “It’s not like you can nudge these guys over. They are really heavy.”
A full-grown manatee can weigh in the neighborhood of 1,000 pounds, so moving one is no small task.
“Under normal circumstances, they would never beach themselves voluntarily, so it’s an animal that could be compromised by a situation like this,” Jack Cover, general curator at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, tells NPR.
“Normally, if we have to move a manatee, we would use a sling similar to the way you’ve probably seen dolphins moved,” Cover says.
Nadia Gordon, a marine biologist with the Florida Wildlife Commission, says the FWC has received several reports of stranded manatees in the county, according to The Bradenton Herald.
Gordon says it’s not uncommon for the manatees to be tidally stranded and that it’s better not to move them.
Hurricane Irma’s extremely low pressure is what caused the water to recede, according to experts. “At the same time, some locations may be experiencing the effects of the hurricane ‘bulge.’ In the center of the storm, where the pressure is lowest and winds are converging, water piles up,” writes Angela Fritz, an atmospheric scientist and deputy weather editor at The Washington Post.