FLORIDA, USA — Manatee mortality rates are on the rise in Florida with the state seeing 824 deaths in 2018: It's the highest number of deaths recorded in the past five years.
Only 2013 topped the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's latest annual report by six deaths, coming in at 830.
In the years between, numbers ranged from 371 to 538 deaths. The years 2016 and 2017 reported nearly similar numbers with manatee deaths sitting at 520 and 538, respectively.
Meaning, as the report currently stands, an additional 286 manatees died between 2017-18, marking another five-year milestone for the largest spike in deaths for the state since 2013
The FWC's Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory each year tracks both the numbers and cause of death for the sea cows.
The report is broken down into nine categories:
- Crushed/drowned in flood gate or canal lock
- Other: human-related
- Cold Stress
- Other: natural
- Undetermined: too decomposed
- Undetermined: other
- Verified/not recovered
According to the FWC, the largest leading cause of death was natural causes, with 233 manatees dying from infectious and non-infectious diseases, birth complications, natural accidents and natural catastrophes, like red tide.
In 2018, Florida was ravaged by red tide, killing manatees and dolphins, among other sea creatures alike. The most well-known red-tide-causing organism in Florida is known as Karenia brevis, which blooms in the Gulf of Mexico almost every year, according to the FWC.
Human interference took second, with 124, or 15 percent of manatees dying from watercraft strikes in 2018. Another 21 died from other human interactions like vandalism, poaching, entrapment in pipes and entanglement in ropes or lines.
Overall, approximately 24.3 percent of the state's reported manatee deaths occurred here in the Tampa Bay area, according to the FWC. Between seven counties 200 manatees were killed or died from natural causes.
Pinellas and Sarasota counties tied for the top spot with 53 manatee deaths apiece, but it is important to note that the majority of those deaths were related to natural causes.
As for the future of manatees? Current numbers are in for 2019 and while they are lower, the final report has yet to be released. Numbers currently stand at 606 total deaths between January to December of last year.
The Florida manatee is a native species that can be found in multiple waterways across the state. According to the FWC, only a minimum of 7,520 exist today, reclassifying it from an endangered species in 2017.
You can read the full reports below:
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