Hurricane Irma Siphons Water from Shore, Strands 2 Manatees

As Hurricane Irma pounded Florida over the weekend, it brought drenching rainfall and historic flooding across the state, particularly along the shoreline.

But in Sarasota Bay in Manatee County, a pair of massive manatees were temporarily left high and dry.  

A unique combination of storm conditions allowed Irma to siphon water away from the shore toward the storm's center. This stranded a pair of manatees on the sand where they wallowed helplessly until a group of people came to their rescue, according to reports posted on social media. [Are Catastrophic Disasters Striking More Often?]

Irma made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm, with winds gusting up to 120 mph (195 km/h). The hurricane's winds were so powerful that they pushed water away from beaches, first in the Bahamas and then later in the Gulf Coast, while low pressure at Irma's center hoovered up even more water from coastal areas, leaving broad expanses of the seabed exposed, The Washington Post reported.

Footage of Tampa Bay showed a vast expanse of exposed sand, with two dogs frolicking in an area that would normally be underwater, local resident Tim Scheu said in a tweet.

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The scene was grimmer in Sarasota Bay. Yesterday (Sept. 10) at 12:46 p.m. EDT, local resident Michael Sechler shared a photo on Instagram of a beached manatee, explaining that he and several friends walked out into the bay where the water would typically be, to investigate two mysterious shapes lying on the sand — which turned out to be a pair of stranded manatees, he reported.

Manatees, which are a protected species native to Florida waters, can measure up to 13 feet (4 meters) long, and weigh as much as 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms). Unsurprisingly, Sechler and his friends were unable to shift the hefty manatees into deeper water. 

"My friends and I couldn't move these massive animals ourselves, and we called every service we could think of, but no one answered. We gave them as much water as we could, hoping the rain and storm surge come soon enough to save them," Sechler wrote.

More than 4,000 people shared the post on Facebook, and it eventually caught the attention of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and two Manatee County deputies, who arrived to assist the stranded animals, the Herald- Tribune reported.

Under the supervision of the FWC experts, the animals were rolled onto large tarpaulins and dragged to within 300 feet (91 meters) from the water, where the rising tides would return them to their watery domain. However, any humans caught in the deluge of a returning storm surge wouldn't be so lucky. The officials on the scene advised the people who had found the manatees to quickly leave the area for their own safety, according to the Herald-Tribune.

Original article on Live Science.

Mindy Weisberger
Live Science Contributor

Mindy Weisberger is an editor at Scholastic and a former Live Science channel editor and senior writer. She has reported on general science, covering climate change, paleontology, biology, and space. Mindy studied film at Columbia University; prior to Live Science she produced, wrote and directed media for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Her videos about dinosaurs, astrophysics, biodiversity and evolution appear in museums and science centers worldwide, earning awards such as the CINE Golden Eagle and the Communicator Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in Scientific American, The Washington Post and How It Works Magazine.