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900-pound manatee released at Eckerd College

<p>De Soto gets ready for his release at Eckerd College. WTSP photo</p>

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- De Soto, a 900-pound manatee, was released at Eckerd College on Tuesday after its rehabilitation at Lowry Park Zoo.

Fishermen reported that they thought was a dead manatee on March 17, but it was De Soto stranded on a sand bar, according to Eckerd College.

Andy Garrett, a 1999 Eckerd College alumnus and manatee rescue coordinator for the FWC, said De Soto turned out to be much larger than reported, and the college Search and Rescue team was called in to assist in the rescue.

"He had elevated red tide toxin levels, which can cause seizures or paralysis in manatees," Garrett said. "He was initially found in poor condition but he recuperated nicely after receiving care at Lowry Zoo".

Officials took De Soto to Lowry Park Zoo for rehabilitation, and a microchip scan revealed the animal had been rescued once before as an orphan calf on Dec. 9, 2002. He had been reared at the zoo, radiotagged and released near the Apollo Beach power plant in 2004.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chose Frenchman's Creek, which runs behind Eckerd's campus, for the re-release.

"We generally try to release animals near where they were found, because they have familiarity with the area," Garrett said. "His case underscored the importance of calling FWC's wildlife alert number, 1-888-404-FWCC to report dead, injured, or sick marine mammals."