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Community comes to aid of stranded manatee

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By Ashley Thornton

Cedar Key community members rallied together on Sunday evening, ready and willing to assist in what appeared to be a potentially dangerous situation for one manatee.
Diana Topping got the call late Sunday evening. Her cousins, Kevin and Danielle Beckham, saw a manatee that seemed to be in bad shape near their Uncle Walter’s dock. The manatee was being harassed by a couple other manatees and found itself in shallow water with the tide going out. Topping describes herself as the island’s go-to person for injured or orphaned wildlife. She’s had plenty of experience caring for critters and working under a wildlife rehabber in Old Town, with the assistance of her two boys, who, she says, love it.
Topping put a call out on FaceBook to anyone willing to assist. She was in Gainesville with her family when she got the call and couldn’t get there right away. When she arrived at the location, she was touched by the number of people who came out. There were 15-20 cars parked along the side of the road and people lined up and ready to help. She said they looked at her and asked: “What can we do?”
Topping said she felt honored that they were there, that someone put a call out for help and so many people showed up. She described the supporters as having come out in whatever they had on – they just kind of ran out there – some being in their PJ’s and others in oyster boots. She said they were ready to get in the mud and get dirty, whatever they had to do.
“That’s typical of Cedar Key, when we have an incident like that,” said Police Chief Virgil Sandlin adding that they do what they need to do and if there’s a crisis, everyone’s there to help.
As it turns out, it’s mating season for manatees that often come up into the coves to mate. Topping explained that there wasn’t anything that could be done. It was a mile to deep water and the tide still had two feet to go. The manatees were already in the mud. She said manatees have lungs so they bunked down for the night.
“It was a unique experience,” Topping said, “it was an instructional, educational situation too.” She said people brought their kids out and were videoing. Everyone starting talking about what they knew about manatees.
The next morning, Topping said the manatees were gone and you could almost see a trail where people had traveled down to the spot. She said you could still see ruts in the mud from the manatees as well.
According to Brandon Basino, Media Relations Coordinator with the FWC, they received an after-hours call from Molly Jubitz, Cedar Key librarian, regarding the situation. They then contacted local law enforcement, Officer Perry, and had him check out the situation and let them know if the manatees were not gone by morning. Perry reported seeing 11-12 manatees in the cove.
Basino said it’s not typical, but also not too alarming to see a beached manatee this time of year. He said manatees have skeletons in their flippers and can crawl a little bit. The females will actually beach themselves to avoid a mating herd if they’re too tired.
Call the manatee hotline to report any sick, dead, injured or tagged manatees at 888-404-3922.