Advertisement
  1. News

Florida manatee deaths could reach record high

FILE- This Dec. 28, 2010 photos shows a group of manatees in a canal where discharge from a nearby Florida Power & Light plant warms the water in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Florida wildlife officials say 538 manatees were found dead in the state’s waterways in 2017. That’s the third-highest annual death toll on record for the large marine mammals. [Associated Press]
Published Jul. 15

Speeding boaters have killed so many manatees this year that Florida is likely to soon break the record for boat-related manatee deaths — a record that was set just last year.

As of July 9, boaters had fatally clobbered 89 manatees, according to records kept by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That's just 33 short of the record for a full year, and with more than five months left to go. In this same time period last year, the number hit by boats was just 65.

"This is really an unprecedented number," Martine de Wit said Monday. She oversees the state's Marine Mammal Pathology Laboratory in St. Petersburg, where every dead manatee is examined by experts searching for a cause of death.

Look for the record to be broken before summer ends.

"We're at the height of the boating season" right now, Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club and an avid boater, said Monday. Passing the record "could happen really fast. Another month or two and we could be there."

The rapidly rising total of boat strikes is part of a year-by-year escalation of boat-related deaths for manatees. The first year that the number topped 100 was 2016, with 106. Then, in 2017 the number killed by boats rose to 111. Last year, the number of manatees hit by boats set a new record of 122.

De Wit said there are no unusual trends among the deaths, just the plain fact of there being a lot more of them than ever before. Lee and Brevard county boaters killed the most manatees of any counties, and the majority of the fatal injuries were blunt-force trauma caused when the skeg of a boat slamming into the state's official marine mammal.

Just as the number of boat-related manatee deaths has risen, so has the number of recreational boats registered in Florida. It's been increasing every year since 2013. Last year there were 919,000 registered in the state. Adding in the number of commercial vessels boosts that number past the one million mark.

A spokeswoman for the state wildlife commission responded to a question about increased boating rules enforcement by noting that the Legislature had authorized the agency to hire 13 new law officers.

Manatees were included on the very first endangered species list in 1967. But in 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared they were no longer endangered and instead merely "threatened."

Federal officials promised then that changing the manatees' classification would not weaken their protections. But Rose contends that the change is a big factor in the rising number of manatees being killed, because "people think there is less need to be vigilant" when boating through areas known to hold manatees.

The increase in boat ownership is another, he said, as is the relative cheap cost of gasoline and the generally fair weather so far this year.

He said the state's laissez-faire approach to development over the past eight years — since the abolition of the Department of Community Affairs — also plays a part.

Fossils show manatees have existed in Florida for centuries. The first written account of someone seeing a manatee comes from the log of Christopher Columbus, who noted that mermaids were not as attractive as he had been led to believe.

State biologists began tracking the number of manatee deaths in the 1970s. Last year, because of the boat deaths, Red Tide and a prolonged cold snap, a total of 824 manatees died — the second-most since record-keeping began. Rose said that such a huge loss shows that the one thing that's not a cause of the increased boat deaths is "more manatees."

Contact Craig Pittman at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @craigtimes.

REPORT AN INJURED MANATEE:

If you see a sick or injured manatee, please notify the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission by calling 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC).

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn spends time with new homeowner LaToya Reedy and her son, AnTrez, at 918 43rd St. S. SCOTT KEELER  |  Times
    The retired Tampa Bay Buccaneer running back partnered with Habitat for Humanity and others to give a hardworking nursing assistant and her son the home of their dreams.
  2. Duke Energy Co. workers are competing in a line worker competition in Kansas this week. | [Courtesy of Duke Energy Florida] Duke Energy Florida
    Four Duke Energy Florida competitors are from Tampa Bay, as well as two coaches.
  3. An 18 month-old girl died after being left in a car Monday. No charges are expected, police say. WFTS  |  Courtesy of
    No charges are expected after 18 month-old girl was left in a Jeep as her father took a truck to work, police say.
  4. University of South Florida forensic anthropologist Erin Kimmerle pieces together a skull that might have been Emelia Earhart's. SANDRA C. ROA  |  University of South Florida
    DNA from a skull found in 1940 could prove whether the famous aviator has been found.
  5. Alexandra Toigo, 32 and Sabrina Pourghassem, 23, pose for a photo at Hofbrauhaus St. Petersburg holding their signature beer mugs during Oktoberfest 2018. "LUIS SANTANA  |  TIMES"  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The beer hall’s property owners filed a lawsuit saying the restaurant missed its rent starting in August.
  6. Port Tampa Bay on Tuesday agreed to sell a half-acre it owns near the Florida Aquarium for $4.7 million to Streams Capital of Tampa, which is looking at building a 33-story condominium and hotel tower. RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
    The buyer, Streams Capital of Tampa, is looking at building a 33-story tower with a hotel, condominiums and retail.
  7. Nearly a year after it was left abandoned and half-sunk off the Tampa side of the Howard Frankland Bridge, a salvage crew finally raised and towed the Moonraker II to the Courtney Campbell boat ramp. It is slated to be crushed. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The boat was an eyesore to those who live off Tampa Bay. Then it became a political statement. Now it’s been towed and will soon be crushed.
  8. Republican Sen. Joe Gruters said Florida consumers are required to pay the sales tax, but rarely do so if online sellers don't collect it.
    The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee unanimously approved the bill Tuesday.
  9. Stephanie Vold, a medical assistant and intake specialist for OnMed, holds the door while Austin White, president and CEO of the company, talks with a nurse practitioner during a demonstration of their new telehealth system at Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday. The hospital is the first to deploy the OnMed station and plans to install them at other locations. OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times
    The closet-size “office” with a life-size screen is another example of the changing face of medicine.
  10. A Hernando County Sheriff's deputy talks to students in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. Earlier this month, the school district put forward a proposal to move away from a contract with the Sheriff and establish its own police force. On Tuesday, it announced it would drop that idea.
    Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis spoke out this week against the proposal.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement