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429 Dead Manatees found Last Year out of Population of 4,000; Only 37 Called Natural Deaths

A record 429 manatees were found dead off Florida last year out of a delicate population of just about 4,000. Could it be good news, reflecting a growing population? After all the the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission counted a record 3,807 manatees in their aerial surveys last year.


Not so fast, says the FWC:  “The situation is not that simple. Both the carcass totals and the annual counts from statewide aerial surveys are considered minimum numbers only, and they cannot be used to calculate long-term population trends.” In other words, both the 400 and 4,000 are wild-ass guesses (WAG)–though maybe scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG).

Last year was really cold, so the manatees crowded the power plants and springs like never before, making for stunning pictures (like the one here by  Tom Reinert) and high counts. But that’s not a complete or accurate count. The cold was a big factor: 56 died from cold stress, more than double the five-year average.

But there were record deaths from other factors, too. The data show only 37 were found to have died of natural causes. That doesn’t mean people killed all the rest. Humans were directly tied to 97 from boats, 5 from locks and gates and 7 from other human-related causes. The rest are somewhat a mystery and manatee advocates think humans are tied to many more. 114 were described as “perinatal,” just meaning they were very young, and they believe many are really tied to people.

What are we doing to stop killing manatees? The Fish and Wildlife Service is thinking about expanding manatee protection areas. Predictably speed boaters hate that and so does the U.S. Navy. FWS spokesman Chuck Underwood intimated to the LA Times that any big expansion is more or less dead in the water.

Where can you can see manatees?

Where can you see more wildlife down south?


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