Dire year for the manatee: Death toll highest on record

Staff Report

2013 has become the deadliest year ever for Florida’s endangered manatees. In total, 769 manatees have died so far this year from Jan. 1 through Oct. 29, making it the largest annual manatee die-off in Florida since record-keeping began. The previous record was set in 2010 when biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission documented 766 dead manatees, of which hundreds died from cold stress. With more than two months still to go in 2013, nearly twice the number of manatees have already died than died in all of 2012.

According to Dr. Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club’s director of science and conservation, two unusual mortality events in 2013, coupled with the regular threats manatees face on a daily basis, have been responsible for the unprecedented losses. A record number of 276 manatees succumbed from exposure to a toxic red tide bloom in southwest Florida, centered in Lee County. Meanwhile, on Florida’s east coast, an unusual mortality event claimed more than 100 manatee lives in Brevard County this year.

This year’s record-breaking manatee mortality is a loud and clear signal that our waterways are in trouble,” said Tripp, who explained that of the total number of manatee deaths so far this year, 123 were stillborn, newborn or young calves less than 5 feet in length, which sets another annual record for this category of mortality. Of these, at least 49 were found in Brevard County, at the epicenter of the unusual mortality event linked to a variety of algal blooms and loss of 47,000 acres of seagrass since 2010.

Patrick Rose, who is an aquatic biologist and the executive director of the club, said: “With 2013’s catastrophic loss of manatee lives coming so close on the heels of the mass mortality suffered during 2010, the already difficult job to ensure the survival of these gentle and defenseless marine mammals has been made all the more challenging, and it’s not over yet. What we put into our waters, how much we pump from our aquifer and draw from our springs and rivers, together with how we use our waterways, all has an impact on our own lives and the lives of every aquatic species. We must be better stewards of our waters and waterways or suffer even more severe consequences going forward.”

Save the Manatee Club reminds the public that November is Manatee Awareness Month in Florida — the time of year when manatees are on the move, making their way to important winter warm-water sites.

For more about endangered manatees, visit the club’s website at www.savethemanatee.org. Watch manatees in their natural habitat on the club’s Blue Spring webcams at manatv.org.

From the Nov. 13-19, 2013, issue

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