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Courtesy of Mikko Claxton Photography

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – An employee of a yacht club in Southwest Florida helped save a manatee believed to have been poisoned by a poisonous red tide.

Mikko Claxton, of Bradenton, Fla., Said he was taking pictures when he discovered the manatee in distress and went to see what was going on. Claxton said he found Don Swartz, a member-only Freedom Boat Club employee, holding the animal with his nostrils above the water.

“I asked him what was wrong with the manatee and he said they thought it was because of the red tide, that he was having trouble breathing,” Claxton said.

According to, red tide is a concentration of an algae that produces a toxin that can affect the central nervous system of fish.

Swartz and another Freedom Boat Club employee said they followed the manatee by boat after their manager heard a radio call saying a lifeless manatee was floating in the river.

According to a statement from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the wind and waves then pushed the manatee against a rocky shore.

“Fifteen minutes later the manatee turned around and started to drown,” Swartz said.

Under the direction of the FWC, Swartz jumped in, rolling the manatee to keep its nostrils above the water. After 40 minutes, Swartz said rescuers arrived and took over.

A marine mammal rescue team then stretched the manatee about 9 feet onto a capture boat and transported it to a nearby launching ramp. The manatee was then loaded onto a transport truck and transported to SeaWorld.

Swartz added that the manatee “appeared to have eaten poisonous seagrass from the red tide,” but was told the manatee had a 95% chance of recovery.

“We hope to be part of his placement in the wild after his recovery,” Swartz said.

According to the FWC, never push a marine mammal back out to sea if it is found stranded on the beach. If you see a marine mammal in distress, you should immediately contact wildlife officials.


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