Why are so many Florida manatees dying?
A preliminary state tally for 2020 found 619 manatees were killed, up from last year and the second highest number in the last five years.
Add manatee deaths to the list of bad things that happened in 2020.
Despite the COVID-19 shutdown that may have briefly given the lumbering sea cows a break from heavy boat traffic, deaths climbed to 619 last year, according to a preliminary tally from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That’s the second highest number in five years, behind 2018 when a lethal red tide blanketed the Gulf Coast and killed more than 200.
“As soon as [people] realized that you could socially distance on the water, it swung the other way,” said Patrick Rose, an aquatic biologist and executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. “It went from a bit of a respite to almost literally an overkill.”
Because of the shutdown, necropsies were not performed on about a third of the dead manatees, Rose said. That left biologists to guess the cause of death. But he said they estimate boat strikes killed just over 100, in keeping with the number of boating deaths in recent years.
Rose said that suggests that other worrisome trends — poor water quality and loss of habitat — could be playing a role in increasing numbers.
“Boating is still a critically important factor for manatees, but sadly — and one that as an aquatic biologist and someone working in the field for about 50 years I really didn't think we were going to see — is the levels of concern for the habitat itself,” he said. “With all the red tide, brown tides, blue green algal blooms and just the problems that Florida is facing in terms of water quality and quantity, it's starting to have a very significant impact on loss of seagrass and and food resources for manatees.”
Manatees were removed from the endangered speci