The year 2013 has been a very bad one for the manatees. There were over 800 deaths of the animal around the waters of Florida, where the manatee mainly resides. That number is the highest since records began being kept on them back in 1974.
These deaths were over double the 390 manatee deaths reported in 2012. It is even much higher than the approximately 450 deaths chronicled in 2011.
The preceding record had been about 765 manatee deaths in 2010, stated Florida state commission spokesperson Kevin Baxter. But that was a year when cold weather played into the equation. That was not the case this year.
This is the first time the manatees have lost so many of their population in one year. Officials declared that high number is nearly 16 percent of the projected populace of 5,000. Therefore it is a major blow to any life form.
What causes these deaths to be even more tragic is that almost 170 of them were females of breeding age. As was mentioned above, the preceding high death mark was attributed to a lengthy cold snap, but the temperatures hit mostly young manatees which were not at the age of breeding yet back then.
It is believed there could be more than one cause for 2013 high death numbers for the manatee.
There was a huge blossom of Red Tide algae near Florida’s southwestern coast which caused 275 deaths very early in this year. Red Tide has existed for hundreds of years and has killed manatees in times past. However this year has been the worst string of Red Tide deaths which have been recorded. There is also a strange sickness which has been caused the deaths of manatees in the Indian River Lagoon. This is located over on the state’s eastern coastline near Fort Myers. Nearly 120 manatees have perished in that river lagoon since July of 2012.
Algae, which are usually naturally occurring, can sometimes begin to grow out of control for unidentified reasons. It turns the water red and produces many neuro-toxins which are poisonous to fish, birds, sea turtles and marine animals.
The algae settle down on sea grasses which manatees consume. This in turn affects their nervous systems and in the end causes the animals to drown. The past record which had been kept for Red Tide deaths was over 150 and that was back in 1996.
But even as scientists work hard at trying to isolate the toxins from the algae in the Indian River Lagoon, it appears that much of the manatees’ deaths are also due to humans.
Raw sewage and leaking septic tanks border the lagoon and therefore are able to seep into the water. Events such as this are causing Florida to suffer environmentally.
The West Indian manatee is also called a “sea cow” by Floridians. It is wrinkled and whiskered and very gently. The sea mammal is a relative of the Amazon and African species. It usually grows to at least nine feet and ends up weighing over 1,000 pounds.
Hopefully the New Year will be better for the manatee but without changes in the environment, the end of next year will bring just as bad news as 2013 has for the manatee.
By Kimberly Ruble
Pensacola News Journal