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ZooTampa Taking In Manatees Again After Controversy

ZooTampa at Lowry Park is caring for four new manatees transferred to the facility from Sea World.
Ashley Lisenby
WUSF Public Media
ZooTampa at Lowry Park is caring for four new manatees transferred to the facility from Sea World.

Three adult manatees and one calf have found a temporary home at ZooTampa at Lowry Park.

Zoo staff welcomed the arrival of the animals Thursday during media tours of the new facility, which was closed for several months for state-funded renovations totaling $3 million.

The adult manatees received care for boat-related injuries, first at Sea World and now at ZooTampa.

"Boat strike is a big reason that manatees need critical care, also red tide," associate curator Tiffany Burns said. "Those are two big and important reasons why manatees need our help."

Burns is a part of a new team of specialists helping with the manatees after veterinarian Ray Ball came under scrutiny last year. He was accused of poor medical treatment that led to the death of at least two manatees.

The zoo and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the allegations. ZooTampa officials said in a news release that the accusations against Ball suggesting he provided sub-par treatment of animals were unsubstantiated.

The federal wildlife agency approved the zoo to care for manatees again earlier this month, but the zoo said in another news release at that time that Ball will not work with manatees.

Head Zoologist and Zoo Director Larry Killmar said new personnel and renovations will help them better care for manatees.

"Dr. Lauren Smith is the lead veterinarian now on manatee care," Killmar said. "And of course the biggest change has been in our facility that we're very happy to have after a $3 million investment by the state of Florida. So all of that together is a new direction and new program for us."

Every hour and a half, a new energy-efficient water filtration system cleans hundreds of thousands of gallons of water in the pools where manatees stay, Killmar said. 

He estimates there are about 6,000 of the federally protected manatees in the southeastern U.S.

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Ashley Lisenby is a general assignment reporter at WUSF Public Media. She covered racial and economic disparity at St. Louis Public Radio before moving to Tampa in 2019.