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Manatee Deaths Hit Record, Our Town Sarasota News Events

Manatee Deaths Hit Record

Florida loses record number of manatees!

At a Glance

  • 130 manatees died after being hit by boats in 2019.
  • Overall, 574 manatees have died in Florida waters this year.
  • Cold weather killed 56.

A record number of manatees were killed by boats in Florida this year, according to preliminary statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The numbers show there were 130 manatees killed by boats in 2019 as of Dec. 20. That’s the most in 45 years of annual reports published on the FWC website.

The highest death toll was in Lee County on the state’s southwest Gulf coast, where 25 manatees were killed by boats. The second highest was in Brevard County on the Atlantic coast, where 15 died in the Indian River Lagoon. Those two areas tend to have high populations of manatees due to vast seagrass habitats.

“Hotspots are the Indian River Lagoon and Lee County,” Martine deWit, a FWC veterinarian, told Florida Today.

Cold weather is also dangerous for manatees, causing 56 deaths so far in 2019, the second-highest in the past five years. Water temperatures below 68 degrees can cause a condition known as manatee cold-stress syndrome, which results in potentially fatal issues, including weight loss and dehydration, according to the FWC.

While 44 of those died earlier this year, three died in November and nine in December. Cold weather that moved in after a warm October “surprised some manatees who were still on the move, and we have already documented lethal cold stress, which is relatively early this year,” deWit said.

Manatees migrate to warmer waters during the cold months, meaning they are move active in areas where boaters are present. The FWC and other agencies work to increase public awareness during those times.

“These are very preventable deaths for manatees, and that’s why we’re out here really stepping up enforcement,” FWC Officer Brian Norris told WBBH-TV in Lee County.

Collisions with the gentle giants can also be dangerous to humans.

“Some of these manatees weigh 1,000 pounds, so if you were to strike that with your vessel, it could harm people on it, too,” Norris said.

The number of manatees counted in annual statewide surveys has more than doubled in the past 20 years to a high of 6,620 in 2017, according to Florida Today. The federal government downgraded the manatee from an endangered species to a threatened species that same year.

In all, 574 manatees died in Florida waterways so far this year, including those that died from natural or undetermined causes. That’s down from 804 last year, but higher than the five-year average of 517.
Source: The Weather Channel