Manatees, We Have Work To Do

Abandoned bridge, damaged by Hurricane Charlie, over the Titusville portion of the Indian River Lagoon, Brevard County, Florida, (c) SML

2009 was not a good year for the sea cows. The Florida Fish and Widlife Commission released its preliminary report on manatee mortality in state waters today and revealed that the past season had a record high loss of manatees in state waters: 429!

The report briefly breaks down totals with some eye-opening revelations for me.  My home county of Brevard had the highest overall count with 107 losses.  We are, in fact, one of the highest population centers for manatees within the state of Florida, but its hard to say that higher population counts hold up alongside higher overall losses.

Other gruesome statistics:

  • 97 manatees were lost to watercraft strikes and collisions
  • 5 deaths attributed to flood gate and canal locks (where manatees are crushed to death or pinned and drowned)
  • 114 perinatal (or young calves) were lost overall
  • and 56 deaths were due to cold stress, a number almost double the current five-year average

Last season’s winter was not particularly out of the ordinary for Florida so the cold stress numbers have certainly given rise to raised eyebrows and curiosity.  Currently we are experiencing record-lows in the state and expect to see several rescue cases for cold stress come in within the next few days at many of the state’s rescue centers.

The question really is: where will we put them all?  And how can we account for the record loss of ‘cows around the state after a banner aerial survey year?  What more can we do for Florida’s manatees that we are not already doing?