My Manatee Adventure

(Probably not one of my most photogenic moments)
I missed another Healthy Writers Club post this Friday--which means I haven't posted since I participated in the U.S. Geological Survey's Crystal River manatee research study two weeks ago. This means I still have to nerd-squee all over the place. (Here's the link to my original post: Manatees and Squeeing!)

Manatee Research Study Team: November 2012
In short, I had an absolute BLAST. It was absolutely mind-boggling to be included with such a capable and professional group of people. I was on the Manatee Catch Team, so my job was to help pull in nets and to help restrain the manatees on the beach. Once they were restrained, we pulled them into a stretcher, loaded them onto a boat, and escorted them over to the medical beach, where veterinarians performed all their tests before giving the animals back to us to release in the deep water.

Catch Team: November 2012
The manatees were out of their element, of course, but everyone there did everything possible to make the encounter as stress-free as possible. Everything ran like clockwork, and the animals were even given oxygen while their heart rates were monitored for stress.

Weigh Station: November 2012
(That's me with the sunglasses in the middle on the right side!)
My friend Sonya and I both jumped right into the action, and we crashed into this crazy dog pile every time we restrained an animal. We were all covered in mud, and everyone’s hands were on top of each other, and we were bumping faces and falling in on top of each other. Someone always had a hand on your back, or he or she was helping steady you as you walked. The teamwork was amazing, and I felt so honored to be part of something like this.

(That's Sonya on the left and me in the middle!)
After spending so many years living away from water (or in Alaska'a case, water you can actually swim in), I can definitively say I feel like I've returned home now. Once you have saltwater in your veins, you struggle to live without it. :)

Healthy Writers Club: Manatees and Squeeing!

Photo Courtesy of Shallee McArthur
Happy Friday, everyone! I am cheating and writing this post on Monday (four days before I'm supposed to), so I'm not exactly sure what my stats will be this week. However, I have a REALLY AWESOME excuse: I will be participating in the U.S. Geological Survey's annual wild manatee study in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge this week!

I am just thrilled to death about this. I have never participated in one of these studies before, but I have always, always, always wanted to. (I wriggled my way in this year through my friend Sonya, who worked with me at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach a few years ago. When she asked if I'd like to join her, I jumped at the chance.)

You are probably wondering what a wild manatee study is, and you are probably sensing how ridiculous and nerdy my squeeing is over here. I will fill you in on the details.

Here is what USGS has to say about their work, and you can read their full handout here:

Photo Courtesy of USFWS Headquarters

Over the last decade, the USGS has successfully captured, examined, and released over 300 manatees, creating an extensive sample and data archive. Research in greater Crystal River, Florida is providing needed baseline health information of West Indian manatees. This is the fourth year of the wild manatee study at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

Health assessments are a valuable tool to determine the fitness, specifically related to environmental and medical issues, of any population of wildlife. Marine mammals, such as manatees, are often used as sentinels for emerging threats to the ocean environment and human health. 

Photo Courtesy of vladeb
A two-team approach is used to capture and exam manatees. The Capture Team and Assessment Team both consist of biologists and veterinarians representing federal, state and local government agencies. All procedures are conducted by experienced biologists and veterinary personnel. Manatees selected for capture are circled with a large net and pulled onto the beach by an experienced capture team. 

Photo Courtesy of vladeb
Once on shore, the manatees will receive a complete medical examination by veterinarians on the assessment team. Blood is drawn under sterile conditions from a flipper, centrifuged for plasma and serum separation, and submitted for routine blood analyses. Other laboratory tests are employed when necessary. A manatee physical exam includes the following:

• General Appearance 
• Body Condition 
• Photo-documentation of lesions and wounds 
• Heart/Pulse Rate 
• Respiratory Rate 
• Temperature 
• Body weight 
• Complete body measurements (body length and girths)
 • Eye exam 
• Implantation of PIT tag 
• Subcutaneous fat layer exam 
• Analysis of blood, feces, urine and skin 
• Reproductive parameters 

Improvements in the handling of wild manatees are possible by monitoring individuals using ECG and evaluating inflammatory response to injury or disease during capture. Blood biochemistry and hematology research has benefited manatee clinical medicine by establishing normal ranges for veterinary evaluations of healthy wild manatees. 

Photo Courtesy of myFWCmedia
Other published studies incorporating capture data include research on several biological subjects including: 

• Hormone levels for determining pregnancy 
• Capture stress levels in wild manatees 
• Epiphytes (living organisms that grow on manatees) 
• Trace element contaminants in manatee tissues compared to levels in the local environment

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
OMG, those of you who are familiar with my first novel, THE MERMAID GENE, already know my protagonist Kai Murphy is the daughter of a famous dolphin researcher who does catch and release medical exams like this all the time. 

The fact that I built an entire novel out of the AWESOMENESS THAT IS WHAT I GET TO DO IN CRYSTAL RIVER means this adventure will absolutely qualify for my Healthy Writers Club BODY, MIND and SPIRIT milestones this week.

I will fill you in on all the details when I return!