ST. PETERSBURG — The year isn't over yet, and already a record number of manatees have turned up dead in state waters.
As of Dec. 11, 419 manatee deaths have been documented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. Last year there were 337 deaths.
Like last year, many deaths this year were young calves, a troubling trend without a single cause.
"It's hard to really give one good explanation," said state biologist Martine DeWit.
So far 114 manatees smaller than 5 feet long have been found. Manatee calves weigh about 60 pounds at birth and may stay with their mothers for up to two years. When they die at or near birth, the cause is often unknown.
The increase could be because more babies were born this year, that more calves are dying, or that their deaths were simply better documented, she said.
• Manatee deaths by boats also were higher this year, with 94. Last year there were 83; the five-year average is 77.
• Deaths due to cold stress were higher this year as well, with 55 deaths, most of them during the first half of 2009. Last year there were 21; the five-year average is 24.
• Undetermined deaths number 87, compared with 55 last year and a five-year average of 68.
When it comes to preventing manatee deaths, "one of the key things is still awareness," DeWit said. "If people are concerned about a manatee in distress or if they do find one, they should call."
The free FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline is, 1-888-404-3922.