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Manatees Not Showing Oil, But Dying a Lot

Manatee, by Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

So far no manatee has turned up oiled after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill earlier this year. But 656 of the goofy, endangered marine mammals have turned up dead, according to the latest statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. That’s a devastating 13% of the population. The biggest problem was a cold spell last winter, but we may never know if or what role the oil had.

Cathy Beck, who manages the Manatee Individual Photo-identification System (MIPS),  says the oil spill was “extremely worrisome,” but so far no oiled manatees in the area where the oil spread. Their next concern is that the remaining oil will seep into the seagrass manatees eat. They’ll be on the lookout for any oil or dispersant residue this winter when they capture 10 or so (as they do each year) and give them a physical, including testing blood and tissue samples.

Defenders of Wildlife, Save the Manatees and other wildlife groups sued BP saying they violated the Endangered Species Act by harming the 27 threatened or  endangered species that live in the gulf.

Save the Manatees says that the big problem was the cold weather at the beginning of the year, which also lead to spectacular photos and record manatees counts (5,076) as the manatees crowded around natural springs and power plants to stay warm. “In total, more than 300 manatees are believed to have died from this lingering event, shattering the previous record of 56 cold-related deaths. In addition, several dozen manatees suffering from cold stress were rescued around the state,” their news release said.

The 656 dead manatees are even more scary when compared to last year when 429 died. According to Florida stats, 270 manatees were found dead in January, 151 from cold stress, with most of the rest undetermined. When you compare the mortality stats side by side, so far it doesn’t look the manatees were touched by the oil, yet, at least.

There was some good news in manatee world this summer. As the Florida population grows, it’s been exploring further from home in summer. The Dauphin Island Sea Lab has been closely watching Mobile Bay in Alabama.  Ruth Carmichael, senior marine scientist, says they got to see the return of the first two tagged Alabama manatee visitors, Bama and Bumpy. They hung back in Apalachicola, FL, most of the summer, but eventually visited. “Bama was still milling in the Delta with one of our newly tagged beasts as of [last] Tuesday,” she says.

Where to Go See Manatees (they’re starting to gather in Florida, but the big season is January or February)

Manatee Deaths 2009 2010
Jan 40 270
Feb 74 94
March 46 97
April 40 42
May 32 44
June 33 39
July 38 22
Aug 37 33
Sept 22 16
Oct 26
Nov 23
Dec 18
Total 429 656

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