t hasn’t been a good year for the manatee in the state of Florida. Statewide, there have been 763 deaths reported in the first 11 months compared to the 538 reported deaths in 2017.
The red tide blooms in Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties had a definite effect. The official count of red tide deaths statewide — including those confirmed and suspected — stands at 206, with one month left to report. Last year, the number was 67. But that’s not as bad as 2013, when the red tide manatee deaths climbed to 277.
According to Mote Marine Laboratory, red tide is to blame for 10 percent of manatee deaths when averaged over 10 years. According to an article published on Mote Marine’s website, that number jumps to 30 percent during bloom years.
The manatees that expire from red tide are categorized as “natural; other” deaths. Of course, manatees expire for many reasons, including infections and birth complications. The data captures that, plus deaths in categories such as perinatal (stillborn or very young manatees), cold stress (water temperatures below 68 degrees), natural, undetermined (no necropsy) and watercraft strikes.
In the Florida Keys, the numbers are still tragic, but nowhere near the highest in the state. In 2018, there were 25, most in the Upper Keys, except two in Marathon and two in Key West. In 2017, there were 17 reported manatee deaths. Of the 17 deaths, six were from undetermined causes, two manatees were never recovered, four were perinatal and five were from boat strikes.
Every year, boat strikes are responsible for about 20 percent of manatee deaths, except in abnormal years with red tide, which skews the statistic.
But there’s good news, too. There have been 118 manatees rescued so far, 66 of which have been released. Most of the sea cows had suffered a boat strike, but plenty get tangled in crab traps or monofilament or some type of manmade structure like a culvert.
Mote Marine immunology expert Cathy Walsh and FIU chemist Kathleen Rein are studying how to treat red tide sickness in the sea cow. According to Mote, the team will study the effectiveness of certain antioxidants as opposed to the current treatment of anti-inflammatories.
“The current approach is simply to give palliative care and wait for them to clear the toxin and get better,” Rein said in a Mote report. “This new treatment could accelerate the healing process.”
The FWC has an entire department dedicated to manatee research, including tracking and counting the population, and trying to develop some type of technology to reduce boat strikes.
Two years ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service changed the manatee status from endangered to threatened.
RESCUE & RELEASE
Twin 2-1/2-year old manatees named Millennium (male) and Falcon (female) were released back into the water off Key Largo about three weeks ago. The siblings were rescued in October 2016 by Dolphin Research Center and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after their mother, a well-known manatee named Bonnie, was killed by a boat strike. After their rescue, the young calves were transported to Miami Seaquarium for their initial care. They were then transferred to Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio to grow up a little. In September 2018, they returned to Miami to begin acclimation to ambient water temperatures, sea grass and other things in preparation for their release. Now weighing about 600 pounds each, the manatees were outfitted with satellite tracking tags. Their condition and progress will be monitored for the next few months to ensure that they are thriving. U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE/Contributed
WHAT TO DO …
If you see a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee, get on the horn immediately. Call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922) or cellular phone customers can call *FWC or #FWC.