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Watch Florida Wildlife Officials Rescue 19 Manatees Trapped Inside a Storm Drain

Four similar events have occurred in the same location over the past couple of years and already nine manatees have died in 2015 due to exposure to cold water.

by Laura Dattaro
Feb 26 2015, 5:55pm

Image via AP

In an unusual overnight rescue mission, Florida police, firefighters, and wildlife officials rescued a herd of manatees after the mammals swam into a drainage pipe and got stuck for at least three days.

All 19 manatees were safely removed from the pipe in Satellite Beach, located on a barrier island on Florida's Atlantic coast. Rescuers arrived Monday evening and worked until 2:30 Tuesday morning, cutting open the pipe and lifting the manatees out of the ground with slings. Aside from a few scrapes and bruises, the animals were in good condition and were released.

(Video via AP)

A grate that normally covers the drain had been removed months ago after becoming clogged, according to Florida Today. It was replaced on Tuesday after the manatees were released.

Cold water can be deadly to manatees, and temperatures in the waters had recently dropped to dangerous levels. In 2014, twenty-six manatees died from exposure to cold, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Nine have died from the cold so far this year.

Biologists suspect the manatees, which cannot swim backwards, may have been looking for warmer water when they became stuck, according to Florida Today

"[T]here are a number of reasons they could have swam up there," FWC spokesman Brandon Basino told the Associated Press. "We're still looking up how long they have been in the drainage system and working with the city to resolve the issue."

Four similar incidents have taken place in the area in recent years. When wildlife officials first heard on Saturday that the manatees were in the drain, they thought the animals might be able to escape on their own. But when city officials checked on them Monday afternoon, they realized the animals were unable to escape.

Once freed, biologists marked the rescued manatees with a harmless grease pen, in order to check up on their condition back in the wild. 

Related: Yellowstone's grizzly bears are already emerging from hibernation — and warm weather could be to blame

Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro