Florida Manatees in 2013: Deadliest Year on Record

Florida manatees
Manatee calf nursing on its mother

Hi, my name is Flo and I’m a manatee. It’s nice that manatees are now respected by humans. Other than (hopefully) accidental boat strikes, humans are no longer trying to kill Florida’s manatees like when we were hunted pre-twentieth century.

I think it is a term of endearment that we are also called sea cows. We eat only underwater plants just like cows eat grass on land.

Manatees only frequent rivers and lagoons where the year round temperature is 72 degrees F (22 degrees C). I especially like the warm water outfalls of power plants! When those warm areas are under threat, so are we. Unfortunately last year (2013) nearly 17 percent of the Florida manatee population died. I feel lucky to be alive!

This record number of deaths was due for many reasons, including red tides, an unknown disease, and boat strikes.

Red tides occur when there is a potentially fatal algae outbreak. This outbreak starts out at the bottom of the food chain. This dinoflagellate slowly bioaccumulates up the food chain until large animals such as myself eat those infected organisms and possibly get sick or die.

Many manatees (at least 115) died of a mysterious illness that also took the lives of some dolphins and pelicans. This occurred in Indian River Lagoon.

Manatees are very vulnerable to boat strikes because we graze in shallow water. There are just so many boats out there. Plus we sometimes get stuck in fishing nets due to our slow nature, and because the water we live in isn’t always crystal clear.

Phew! Next time I promise not to be so morbid and I will cover more interesting aspects of manatee biology and behavior.

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