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Florida Reports Higher Manatee Death Rate, Even With Data Gap Due To Pandemic

Jul 31, 2020

The rate of manatee deaths is above average in Florida so far this year, although there is a gap in state data between April and May due to coronavirus restrictions.

Florida manatees are listed as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

As of July 24, 388 sea cow deaths have been recorded for 2020, compared to the five-year average of 366 around this time of year.

Martine de Wit, a veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said there's no single leading cause of death. But when the state shut down due to COVID-19, researchers stopped performing necropsies on the dead manatees.

"We were getting our guidelines back up and running to do it as safely as possible for our staff,” she said. “But what we did continue was respond to manatees that were in need of rescue."

The number of unrecovered manatee bodies averages around 30 by this time of year. This year, though, has so far clocked in 132 manatee carcasses not recovered or fully examined.

Watercraft collisions continue to be one of the main causes of death, said de Wit.

She has a message for Florida boaters this summer: obey the slow speed zones.

"Even if you're outside of the zone, especially in shallow areas but even in the channels, always keep your eyes out on the water because manatees can be anywhere,” said de Wit. “And you can also look for their foot print circles that they leave in the water when you're swimming."

Even though watercrafts injure manatees at high rates, de Wit said boaters are the primary eyes and ears to look out for injured or dead manatees.

Using polarized sunglasses will also help to detect them.

If you'd like to make a report, you can call the hotline: 1-888-404-FWCC.