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Feb 2, 2010 7:22 PM by Bea Karnes, News First 5

Manatee hospital saves injured mammals

In a small building on the back side of the Miami Seaquarium, tucked far away from where tourists roam, is a hospital of sorts.

Where they do assessments and mix medicine, food, and nutrients for their patients.

Today, Dr. Maya Rodriguez and her staff prepare to treat one patient in particular.

His name is Riviero. He has broken ribs and a collapsed lung that's become infected.

Staff for the Miami Seaquarium's "Manatee Rehabilitation Program" have been working with Riviero for three weeks.

Each day they have to drain the fluid from his infection.

Treat it with antibiotics

And give him vitamins and nutrients through a feeding tube.

All because Riviero was hit by a speeding boat.

"It's kinda like school zones. We're always gonna have to slow down in school zones," says Dr. Rodriguez.

His markings show that he's been hit numerous times.

And in another tank, not too far away.

"We have Clarity. She's a boat strike, her spine has been fractured. Indiana is the larger of the manatees. She doesn't have a flipper. She became entangled in a crab pot. And then we have Vanity and Wrinkles. That's the mom and the calf," points out Dr. Rodriguez.

And the number of sea cows that are injured or killed just keeps getting worse with each passing year.

Last year, experts say we had the highest mortality rate on record with over 500 manatees found dead. Already this year, over 100 have died. Right now there are 15 being cared for at the Miami Seaquarium. That number well above normal."

We haven't even gotten through the first month in 2010, and we're already on track to shatter last year's record of fatalities.

Which is why staffers for the Manatee Rehabilitation Program are adamant about one thing.

"If you're on a boat just slow down," says Dr. Rodriguez.

A constant voice of reason, educating South Florida on how to cohabitate with these mammals since 1955.

They've helped rescue and release hundreds over the years.

Making this place, this program, a saving grace for one of Florida's most beloved endangered species.

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