NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. -- When Howard Tarpey saw a manatee on a beach in dire need of help, he didn't think twice about helping.

  • FWC: Manatee stranded on beach after tide goes out
  • Wildlife officers, county volunteers monitored its health
  • Manatee was protected from sun with damp towels

"She was just obviously helplessly beached, and the tide wasn't going to be in for another six or more hours," Tarpey said Friday.

Tarpey jumped in and helped the Smyrna Dunes Park worker who found the 9- to 10-foot sea cow at about 9 a.m.

"We gave the manatee a bit of a massage, because we didn't know if it was alive or not," Tarpey said. "So she opened her eyes and took a breath, and we're like, 'That's good.' "

As the manatee was far too heavy for just a few people to lift out to sea, Tarpey and others worked to keep the manatee as comfortable as they could and shaded it from the harsh sun.

"Somebody brought umbrellas, and then the lifeguard called for more umbrellas, so we had this little camp, and she was in this pond with water all around her," he said.

People also had covered it in damp towels for a while to protect its skin.

But it didn't take long for a crowd of people to show up to help.

"I didn't even question it," Tarpey said. "It was just the natural thing to do, and I think once other people saw what was going on, they had that same feeling -- you could call it a sense of duty," Tarpey said.

With the direction of wildlife experts, the group lifted up the animal and took it back out to the ocean at about 11 a.m.

"She's very, very heavy, and I think every single one of us put a big effort in to get her above knee-deep water," Tarpey said. "It was a beautiful thing to see her kick that tail, and away she went, back into her natural environment."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it's likely the manatee made its way up on the beach because it's manatee mating season, and she was likely trying to get away from male manatees chasing her.

FWC says if you spot a beached manatee, don't approach it -- it can be dangerous to you and dangerous for the manatee if you try to push it back into the water yourself. It's also illegal to touch a manatee. The best thing to do is to call FWC's Wildlife Rescue Hotline at 1-888-404-3922.