Record Loss of Manatee Calves in 2008

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The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute released a preliminary report on manatee mortality in the state for the last year. The 2008 mortality figure of 337 deaths is under the five year average for manatee losses (estimated at 357). Unfortunately, the two highest categories for loss were above the average and in fact the loss of newborn (or perinatal) calves this year was a record high of 101. Ninety manatees, of the total 337, died in state waters due to watercraft strikes in the next highest category.

While the 2009 census has not yet begun, and the 2008 census was suspended because of warmer than usual wintertime temperatures, the official 2007 census put the state population at 2,817. Coupled with the average loss rate it looks like 10-15% of the population might die in a given year with a sizable chunk of that coming from a concretely human effect. Ten percent may seem like an acceptable loss, and perhaps it even is for this population, but if manatees were members of another endangered species the loss of so many animals would be nothing short of catastrophic. If three hundred red wolves died in a single year it would wipe out the species from the planet. Why isn’t this loss being trumpeted from the leadoff desks of CNN and all the rest?

What isnt highlighted in this report are any manatee deaths attributed to entanglement, which I will certainly be interested to see when the full report is officially published. Entanglement in discarded monofilament and ghost nets is a less well known cause for rescues and manatee deaths. Worse, not only will manatees entangle their flippers and paddles in debris, they’ll also attempt to consume it. A previous success story, named Dundee, died this year due to plastic consumption.

The US Government Accountability Office just issued a report citing the failure of the National Marine Fisheries Service to adequately protect marine mammals in all US waters from entanglement and “bycatch” in coastal fisheries in past years. And while NMFS, along with state organizations like FWCC, can continue to collect data and attempt to use all available resources to enforce and place regulations that can assist manatees and other marine wildlife, at some point it simply comes down to you and I.

Are we going to take responsibility for the future of our oceans, or not? Are we going to get people in our communities to slow down, or not? Are we going to take control of the plastic debris in the oceans, waterways, and especially the Indian River Lagoon? Are we going to minimize our downstream impact by watching the waste and fertilizer that we allow to sit on our lawns?

Or are we going to sit back, relax, and idly ride this out until our marine wildlife ceases to exist?

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One Comment to “Record Loss of Manatee Calves in 2008”

  1. It really is sad, Once you see a manatee in person, you realize we need to protect these animals. There is nothing like them in most of North America, and once gone they will be missed.

    Regards,
    Katrine