JUST IN TIME: Ochi on the foam padding after rescuers took him out of
the water in Biras Creek, Virgin Gorda - click on picture to read more
about it [GIS photo]
Joint effort to save sick Manatee
The Conservation and Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Natural
Resources and Labour spearheaded diligent and meticulous collaborative
action last weekend to salvage the life of a frail looking male manatee
from Biras Creek, Virgin Gorda after it was spotted nearly a month ago
swimming helplessly in BVI waters.
On Saturday February 1, "Ochi," as excited local observers named him, was
caught and taken to the Marine Mammal Laboratory in San Juan, Puerto Rico,
the nearest federally authorised manatee rehabilitation facility, where he
was placed under 24-hour per day intensive care.
Ochi remains in critical care and is considered near death as of Monday
February 3. His gastro-intestinal tract had shut down, but he started
defecating early in the day, which was a positive sign, the Conservation
and Fisheries Department indicated.
Hanging on to life, Ochi sleeps most of the time and will hopefully regain
weight and strength. Once the animal survives the first critical days in
intensive care, he will undergo rehabilitation before being released into
his natural habitat.
However, he will wear a satellite radio-tracking device to monitor his
movements and will be featured on the Caribbean Stranding Network (CSN)'s
website www.rcv.caribe.net throughout his recuperation.
Marine biological authorities from Conservation and Fisheries and a
veterinarian from the Agriculture Department will keep close contact with
officials from the laboratory, as the small complement of staff there needs
assistance to maintain the stringent vigil.
Minister of Natural Resources and Labour the Hon. Reeial George has been
formally briefed by the Conservation and Fisheries and the Agriculture
Departments on the developments and his Ministry will issue updates on
Ochi's progress in the coming weeks.
About a month ago the Conservation and Fisheries Department began receiving
calls from members of the public reporting sightings of the lone "sea cow,"
the more common name for manatees. Staff from the Department located the
animal in Gun Creek, Virgin Gorda last week and took digital photographs to
send to the US and Puerto Rico for evaluation.
Local biologists agreed that excessive human interaction and boat traffic
in the area severely threatened Ochi and were concerned about his overall
deteriorating health. From the pictures alone, the manatee appeared thin
and weakened and it was concluded that the animal's life was in grave
condition, needing immediate attention to survive.
A crew of veterinary experts from CSN flew in from San Juan on the morning
of February 1 to assist in the rescue operation and within a few hours Ochi
was captured near the mangroves in Biras Creek. Immediately, he was placed
on foam padding under a shaded area where his condition was assessed.
The mammal measured ten feet in length, weighed 650 pounds half the mass
of a healthy manatee his size, was severely dehydrated due to lack of
freshwater sources, and was given only a 25 percent chance of surviving.
From Biras Creek Resort, Ochi was transported by boat to Spanish Town
Ferry Dock where a large crowd gathered to watch as a crane lifted him from
the vessel and placed him on a flatbed truck to be taken to Virgin Gorda
Airport. Two planes were waiting there to fly the specialists, as well as
Ochi, back to Puerto Rico.
Ochi could have perished by starvation, by the stress of spectators trying
to swim with and touch him, or by a boater running over him. It was in the
best interest of this endangered animal to be removed from the BVI,
Conservation and Fisheries officials said.
Meanwhile, the subject Ministry has expressed appreciation to individuals
and organisations for the successful cooperative effort in rescuing Ochi.
2003 by SUN ENTERPRISES (B.V.I.) LTD.
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