Florida manatees dying at record rates

October 31, 2013
A pair of manatees swim near NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 13, 2010

Toxic algae blooms that deplete the water of essential oxygen are killing a record number of manatees in Florida this year, biologists say.

A total of 769 have died trough Tuesday, making 2013 the deadliest year ever for the blubbery denizens of the deep found off the Florida coast, Save the Manatee Club announced.

With more than two months left this year, nearly twice the number of manatees have already died compared to all of 2012, which saw 392 confirmed manatee deaths.

The last record—766 dead manatees—was set in 2010, when an unusually cold winter and spring killed hundreds of the delicate creatures, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Manatees live near the coastline, and when the weather turns cold, they often shelter near springs or in warmer discharge canals at power plants to avoid the condition known as "cold stress," which can weaken and eventually kill the aquatic mammals.

"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," said the club's executive director Patrick Rose.

"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."

The club's director of science and conservation blamed two "unusual mortality events" for this year's major losses.

Toxic red-tide bloom killed 276 manatees this winter and spring in southwestern Florida, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Most of the deaths took place in the Cape Cora-Fort Myers region off the Gulf coast.

The second event remains unexplained, but saw more than 100 manatees die of undetermined causes in Brevard County off the Atlantic coast.

Tripp said those deaths were linked to various algal blooms and the loss of 47,000 acres (19,000 hectares) of seagrass since 2010.

Of the total number of deaths this year, 123 were stillborn, newborn or young calves, in another record for that mortality category.

Manatees are a protected species in Florida, highly affected by urban development in recent years along the coast in the central and southern parts of the state.

In the bay of Miami, where families of three or four manatees are commonly spotted along the shore, many of the animals are killed after being struck by boats.

Explore further: Record number of manatees counted in Florida

Related Stories

Government to remap manatee habitat

September 30, 2009

It has been more than 30 years since federal wildlife managers formally mapped the places where endangered manatee live in Florida. On Tuesday, they acknowledged it's probably time for an update.

Manatees paddle to warm water to escape Fla. chill

December 30, 2010

(AP) -- People aren't the only ones in Florida who don't like cold weather. Manatees - those giant aquatic mammals with the flat, paddle-shaped tails - are swimming out of the chilly Gulf of Mexico waters and into warmer ...

Warm springs may be best winter refuge for Florida manatees

March 20, 2013

Natural warm water springs may offer the best protection to Florida manatees trying to survive cold winter periods, according to research published Mar. 20 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by David Laiast of the Marine ...

Recommended for you

Genomes uncover life's early history

August 24, 2015

A University of Manchester scientist is part of a team which has carried out one of the biggest ever analyses of genomes on life of all forms.

Rare nautilus sighted for the first time in three decades

August 25, 2015

In early August, biologist Peter Ward returned from the South Pacific with news that he encountered an old friend, one he hadn't seen in over three decades. The University of Washington professor had seen what he considers ...

Why a mutant rice called Big Grain1 yields such big grains

August 24, 2015

(Phys.org)—Rice is one of the most important staple crops grown by humans—very possibly the most important in history. With 4.3 billion inhabitants, Asia is home to 60 percent of the world's population, so it's unsurprising ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.