Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Manatee deaths break record with two months left to go in year

With two months left in 2013, manatee deaths have already broken the record set three years ago. Boaters are not to blame — in fact, the number of manatee deaths from being hit by boats are down.

As of this week, the number of manatees killed in 2013 has hit 769, according to records kept by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

That means more than 15 percent of the estimated population of about 5,000 has already been killed, and as the year goes on the total will continue to climb.

"I'm sure we're going to wind up well over 800," said Pat Rose of the Save the Manatee Club.

The old record, set in 2010, resulted from a lengthy cold snap that killed hundreds of manatees, pushing the year's total to 766.

This time the big die-off has been blamed on a massive Red Tide algae bloom in southwest Florida — which caused 276 deaths total — and a mysterious ailment that has been killing manatees in the Indian River Lagoon on the state's east coast — 116 as of last week, according to Kevin Baxter of the state's wildlife biology lab.

The investigation into what has been killing manatees in the Indian River Lagoon is continuing, Baxter said.

This summer, a government research chemist announced he had isolated what he called "a suite of toxins" on seaweed eaten by the manatees that died in the Indian River Lagoon. Some of the toxins appeared to be previously unidentified by science.

The manatees filled their bellies with the reddish seaweed called Gracilaria because their normal food, sea grass, had been wiped out by a series of huge algae blooms fueled by nutrient pollution in the lagoon. The algae blooms left empty more than 47,000 acres of its sea grass beds, which one scientist compared to losing an entire rainforest in one fell swoop.

Initially, scientists thought fertilizer was the source of the pollution, but tests by Brian Lapointe from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute found that the culprit is actually sewage.

While that narrowed down the cause of death for the manatees, it still did not explain the widespread deaths of the dolphins and pelicans.

Meanwhile the number of manatees killed by boats appears to have dropped this year. This time last year 72 manatees had been clobbered by boaters, Baxter said, and the five-year average for the end of October is 75, he said.

But so far this year boaters have killed only 62 manatees.

That may be partly because, with all the die-offs, "there are fewer manatees to kill," Rose said. The counties that tend to lead the state in boating deaths, Lee and Brevard, have also been the scene of the Red Tide and Indian River Lagoon die-offs.

Rose also credited the speed zones put in place by the state wildlife commission and enforced by state and federal officers for cutting the number of boat-related manatee deaths.

Last year the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take manatees off the list of endangered species and instead list them as threatened.

Federal officials said then that they expected to begin the process of changing manatees' classification sometime this year. However, the federal budget sequestration "has adversely affected our efforts to track Florida manatees," hurting the data-gathering necessary for taking that step, said Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Tom MacKenzie. As a result, any decision has been pushed back until next year, he said.

"We are concerned about the high mortality," MacKenzie said.

Rose contended that the record-breaking death toll this year, as well as continuing concerns about the manatees' loss of habitat in the state's declining springs, should be reason enough to end that effort.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com

Manatee mortality

in Florida

YearDeaths
2003380
2004276
2005396
2006417
2007317
2008337
2009429
2010 766
2011453
2012392
2013* 769

* Through Oct. 30

Manatee deaths break record with two months left to go in year 10/30/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 11:46pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect

    Bucs

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)

    World

    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.