Newborn Manatee Death Numbers Jump in 2008

TALLAHASSEE, Florida, January 7, 2009 (ENS) – A record number of 101 newborn manatees died in Florida waters last year, according to biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

The biologists say the high number of newborn deaths in 2008 may have resulted from a higher number of manatee births than usual. Or, they said, it is possible that biologists just recovered a higher proportion of manatee calf carcasses than usual.

Watercraft strikes and newborn deaths were the two most common causes of manatee deaths in 2008, and the numbers for both were above the five-year average, the biologists said.

The scientists found a total of 337 manatee carcasses in state waters in 2008, and determined that 90 of those deaths were caused when the large, slow-moving mammals were struck by boats.

That amounts to the third-highest figure for watercraft-related manatee deaths in the past decade, an increase from the 73 manatees killed by boats in 2007. The record for deaths caused by boat strikes, 95, was set in 2002.

The commission said in a statement that the low number of red tide-related mortalities last year helped the number of documented manatee deaths remain below the five-year average of 357.

Stan Meeks, manatee advocate with the nonprofit Suwannee River Keepers, says there are about 3,200 manatees in the 1,400 miles of Florida’s coastline that they share with over one million registered boats.

“The odds of a manatee not getting hit by a boat at least once a year are high,” he said Tuesday.

Meeks is concerned about the swim-with-manatee practices at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the largest manatee refuge on the Gulf Coast, located in Citrus County, 65 miles north of Tampa.

“At Crystal River, one of the most photographed and complained about manatee encounters used by the few unscrupulous tour operators is to separate a manatee cow from her newborn calf, then catch the calf in order for customers to rub and pet,” he says.

The biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission documented six newborn manatee deaths in Citrus County in 2008.

Brevard County on Florida’s Atlantic coast had the highest number of newborn manatee deaths last year, 34, and also recorded the most manatee deaths from all causes of any county in the state, 73.

The commission uses trends in mortality figures to monitor ongoing and emerging threats to the manatee population.

FWC law enforcement, in cooperation with partner agencies, uses knowledge of local boating habits, posted speed zones, and up-to-date manatee information to focus on-the-water enforcement operations.

To report a dead or injured manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC.

For more about manatee conservation, click here []. For more on manatee mortality research, click here [].

(Photo: Manatee mother and newborn calf at Islamorada, Florida (Photo by J.C. Mikula courtesy Save the Manatee)

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