It has been reported that the head veterinarian at ZooTampa accidentally killed at least two manatees. Federal officials are investigating reports that the deaths were due to “shoddy medical care”1 as well as asking questions about whether or not Dr. Ray Ball “performed improper field amputations on wild manatees.”2 Dr. Ball is currently on paid administrative leave.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that until the investigation is over, the zoo must “cease all activities involving manatees”3 and indeed their permit for treating and exhibiting the marine mammals may also be in jeopardy. But this could not happen at a worse time; thanks to the statewide Red Tide algae crisis, nearly 200 manatees have died this year so the need for the zoo’s manatee care facility is critical.


However, according to a zoo employee who has worked with Ball in the past, this behavior should come as no surprise:

“‘I and many others have had issues with his style of medical care and extreme negative results that have come with it,’ said Jennifer Galbraith, who resigned from the zoo staff this week after 15 years. ‘We have over the last eight years documented and presented multiple times this information to the zoo management. At no point has Dr. Ball been held accountable for these actions.’

She said she is far from the first person to resign in protest over Ball’s treatment of animals.”4 (Something that the zoo’s director, Larry Killmar, refutes.)

If this is true, it’s high time they lost their permit to treat and exhibit marine mammals.

The letter from the Fish and Wildlife Service addresses four issues with Ball’s medical treatment:5

  • A treatment called “chest taps.” When manatees are hit by boats, their ribs can break and puncture a lung so they are unable to submerge. A chest tap involves sticking a needle into the manatee’s chest to remove the air and determine the size of the puncture. But the needle can go in too deep and puncture the lung again. “After chest taps were performed by Dr. Ball two manatees died, and the necropsy reports showed perforations in the lungs from chest taps.”
  • The second item involves the rescue of wild manatees that had become entangled in fishing line, “On more than one occasion Dr. Ball performed in-field amputations of manatees’ flippers, at times without treatment for infection and pain, and at times releasing the manatees with exposed bones.”
  • The third point looked at drugs Ball used on injured or ailing manatees, “On more than one occasion experimental drugs and/or experimental methods of administering drugs were used.” He would give combinations of drugs “for which he did not have or did not use equipment needed for the procedure.”
  • The last point concerned “the feeding of hay to young/growing manatees or animals that are physically compromised.” Hay offers no nutritional value to manatees, which eat aquatic plants. However, it does tend to be cheaper.

Until the complaints about Ball have been cleared up all manatee treatment will be handled by associate veterinarian Lauren Smith, who has worked there since 2015. We will update you when we have more information.


(It goes without saying that here at HNN we love animals. Also, we hate zoos. While we appreciate the care center for sick manatees due to the red tide, animals do not belong in captivity.)

Sources and References

  1. Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2018.
  2. Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2018.
  3. Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2018.
  4. Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2018.
  5. Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2018.