Manatees, also known as sea cows, are one of the words gentlest mammals - so why are they dying?
In 2013, Florida saw the highest record of manatee deaths that they had ever seen with just shy of 830 deaths. As an already endangered species, this is not good news. Last January it was recorded that they are roughly 4,800 manatees still in existence. That means, that roughly 17% of the population died in one year. The highest record before that was set in 2010 with over 750 deaths, but was deemed to have occurred from extended cold temperatures, which was not likely to occur again.
So that begs the question, what is causing Florida to see one of the highest mortality rates of on of their famed "Florida Big 5" animals? According to Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, it is because of dirty water.
The usual causes for death of this gentle sea-cows has been culprits such as entanglement, cold stress and watercraft collisions and, on the rare occasion, old age. However, there is something else stirring in the waters this time.
Red tide, a common name for the phenomenon of an algal boom, has already been responsible for math fish deaths and is believed to be the source of the manatee numbers too. Tripp notes that these "these blooms are no longer considered an unusual mortality event (UME), but an ongoing mortality event" because it occurs on an annual basis as coastal waters warm. "Red Tide" contains harmful toxins that can cause direct harm to marine life and even reduce oxygen supplies in the water - and they are growing, finding ample food as they move inshore.
With this algae boom, it is important now more than ever to do what we can to help protect these gentle giants. One of which is to reduce human-related incidents, which resulted in 85 manatee deaths last year. Beyond that, as a community, people need to work together to protect the water and prevent pollutants from entering the ocean so as not to add to the environmental issues in these waters.