Manatees (and New Data) Continue To Come In

The cold weather continues to gravely effect wildlife populations in the state of Florida, especially in the case of manatees. SeaWorld Orlando brought in another cold stressed juvenile today and Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the Miami Seaquarium have also been quite active in the past two weeks coordinating with Fish and Wildlife to locate, rescue, and rehabilitate several cases of stressed ‘cows.  In many cases, as Lowry’s press release notes, the turn around for stressed individuals is short and precious space in facilities is freed up by relocating stable patients to veritable half-way houses at state parks and springs.  Some patients stay for the long term though and many are not lucky enough to be reached before it is too late.

The Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab of FWCC released new preliminary numbers on manatee mortality for the first two months of the year, spanning the worst weeks of the extreme cold weather.  The data is disheartening to say the least.

Comparing the numbers from Jan 1st to February 26th for the last five years we find that mortality in the categories of “Cold Stress”, “Undetermined”, and “Unrecovered” are sky high compared to the five-year averages.

(The undetermined category is often used to record manatees whose bodies were too decomposed to necropsy properly to determine a cause of death.  Unrecovered bodies are verified by taking data on size and sex but were not typically sent for necropsy.  See the release on FWCC for full category explanations and the complete data used to make the above table.)

Also sky high for this time of year is the total loss of manatees at 348.  Temper this with the fact that the five year average is 77 for this point in the year and that for the entirety of 2009 – our highest year of mortality ever recorded – the loss was 429!

Barring several miracles between now and December 31st, we are on track to have a rather depressing year in manatee conservation despite the fleeting joy of an also-record-high population count for the aerial survey back in January.

About the only good news coming out of this new data set is that mortality attributed to watercraft strikes is quite low – just 4 individuals or less than 1% of the total loss compared to the five year average of 13.  I can’t help wondering though, if that number is low simply because the harsh weather has kept much of the boating public out of the water and off the shorelines so far this year.