Sea World is turning into a homeless shelter for sea cows during Florida's deadly red tide
US Fish and Wildlife Service
The normally clear waves on Florida's Gulf coast are a stinky, muddy, brown-red mess this year.
A persistent red tide that came in October continues to plague the waters of the eastern Gulf of Mexico, killing off sea creatures big and small. It's even dangerous for people to breathe the contaminated air.
The tide is caused by toxic levels of a sea algae called karenia brevis. Massive blooms of the algae, which occurs naturally at low levels in the ocean, have washed ashore up and down the coast of southwestern Florida. The blooms feed on nutrients like fertilizers that wash into coastal seawater, and thrive in water that is a little bit warm, but not too hot.
The dangerous algae harbors a deadly brevetoxin, which is why red tides are animal killers.
Scientists at the Mote Marine Laboratory say this is the worst red tide they've seen in over a decade. Last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for seven Gulf coast counties.
In addition to fish that suffocate due to the brevetoxin, manatees suffer when they nibble on seagrass that's been contaminated with the chemical. This red tide has already killed an estimated 92 of them since January, according to Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Last-ditch efforts are underway in Florida to save manatees; nearly a dozen have been taken in for first aid at Sea World in Orlando. When it comes to rescuing and treating sick manatees, earlier is better, according to Sea World - if sick manatees are found in the first 24 hours of intoxication, they have a pretty good chance of making a full recovery. Here's what the situation looks like: