Manatees trapped on golf course to be rescued

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Six manatees stuck in a Citrus County golf course pond will be moved back to the Crystal River on Thursday.

During Hurricane Hermine, a storm surge washed the manatees over a bridge that separates a canal connecting to the Crystal River from a pond at The Plantation on Crystal River.

"The water receded so quickly, they weren't able to get back; the culvert was too narrow for them to get through," said Terry Natwick, a spokesperson for the Plantation on Crystal River.

A manatee expert said the animals have probably been loving life in the pond, which is filled with hydrilla -- a weed that manatees love to eat.

"It's like when you go on vacation and you give up your diet, that's what they've been doing," Natwick said. "They've been on vacation. They're probably going to come out of here 20 pounds heavier because they probably never had this much to eat in forever, so they're going to miss this place I think."

On Thursday, a group of experts led by Florida Fish and Wildlife will move the manatees back to the canal.

The process won't be easy; volunteers will have to use a net to lure the animals in, put them on massive stretchers and carry them to the canal.

"There's two big moms in here that are pushing probably 1,500 pounds," said John Spann, a manatee expert who conducts tours for the Plantation. "They'll get them on top of these big blue stretchers that are literally designed to move manatees. All around these stretchers there are handles and, literally, it's just man-power. You get a person on every handle and you lift and walk."

There are potential complications: there are two mother-calf combinations that can't be separated, otherwise the calfs could be abandoned. There are also several alligators in the pond and trappers will be on hand just in case they become a nuisance.

Spann said he was surprised at first to hear about the manatees, but then realized that this was likely to happen eventually.

"They'll come into the canal that's connecting over here all the time, so they're constantly in this area," he said. "Even on a normal high tide they'll get up to the edges to where they can get food that they can't normally get to. So as soon as they were given the opportunity to cross over into here, it didn't surprise us at all that there are that many of them."