Greetings! Unfortunately, I have some sobering news for you concerning our 2020 manatee deaths in Florida. Judging by the latest numbers, Florida is on pace to have one of its deadliest years for manatee deaths. “While 606 manatee deaths were reported in Florida in 2019, there have already been 355 deaths during the first six months of 2020. Out of those, 103 have occurred since May, and 18 manatees have died in Volusia County this year. There have also been two manatee deaths in Flagler County.”
These statewide numbers “suggest 2020 is on pace to reach the manatee death count in 2018 and 2013, when Florida recorded more than 800 deaths. Both those years, algae blooms were suspected as playing a role in some deaths. Available state data does not indicate any role algae blooms have played in 2020 deaths.”
The experts do not think coronavirus is the reason for deaths, however it “has kept officials from performing as many necropsies as normal on the dead animals. As a result, experts from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission aren’t sure what’s causing many [manatees] to die.”
Cora Berchem, director of multimedia and manatee research assistant with the Save the Manatee club, said, “The spike in cases is worrying. A main suspected cause of the deaths is collisions with boats and their engine propellers. Last year saw a record 136 manatee deaths caused by watercraft collisions. So far this year, there have been 36 reported watercraft collisions with the mammals — not including 126 manatees identified dead in the water and not recovered, as well as 43 manatees with an undetermined cause of death. In 2019, there were 129 unrecovered manatees the entire year, and 92 manatees with an undetermined cause of death. In 2018, there were 105 unrecovered manatees, and 110 with an undetermined cause of death.”
Berchem continued and said, “It’s very concerning to see this uptick. Every dead manatee that is found is (usually) brought in for a necropsy. It’s very important that we know how they died.”So why weren’t those necropsies completed? This is due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Martine De Wit, a veterinarian with FWC, said that “while many agency employees have been deemed essential workers by Governor Ron DeSantis during the pandemic, the FWC has kept as many employees as possible working from home. That has decreased the number of manatee necropsies.”
“Sometimes you’re shoulder to shoulder trying to lift up manatees and we just wanted to consider our staff’s safety,” De Wit said. “We continued to respond to manatees that were in need of rescue. We were considered essential for only some of our work.”
The FWC started completing necropsies again on July 2 on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether or not circumstances provided enough safety for researchers. But that situation left a large gap — two months — in data.
So then – how many manatees died from watercraft collisions during this gap. There’s not an easy way to track the level of boat activity, but both De Wit and Berchem said all signs point to a busy summer for boating. It is due to the coronavirus because many more people are out on the water with their boats. De Wit said, “But when manatees have collided with boats and their bodies could not be retrieved, specific data is lost.” The mammals decompose quickly in the summertime, which makes determining why they died more vexing.
She said, “It will be hard to tell what was going on there. Over the years, we’ve collected such an immense amount of data to where we know boat collisions are a major concern for manatees.”
Manatees are still classified as a threatened species, and many of them show scars from boat propellers.
Stay tuned for more news with my future blogs!
If you see any sick or injured manatees, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at: 1-888-404-FWCC. They are the folks who are responsible for rescuing us in Florida.
Here’s the Save the Manatee Club link to learn more about us manatees …
Here’s a cool link for you to learn more about how we’re rescued and brought into rehabilitation …
~ Kobee Manatee