Record number of Florida manatees die as food source dries up | wild animals
State officials said more manatees have already died this year than any other year in Florida’s recorded history, primarily from starvation due to the loss of seagrass beds.
Florida Fish & wild animals The Conservation Commission reports that 841 manatee deaths were recorded between January 1 and July 2, breaking the previous record of 830 that died during the whole of 2013 due to an outbreak of toxic red tides.
More than half of the deaths occurred in the Indian River Lagoon and surrounding areas in Volusia, Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucy and Martin counties, according to regional news outlet TCPalm. The vast majority of deaths were in Brevard, where 312 sheep died.
Some biologists believe that water pollution is killing seaweeds in the area.
“An unprecedented death of manatees from starvation has been documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring,” the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote while announcing the record Friday. “Most of the deaths occurred during the colder months when manatees migrated to and across the Indian River Lagoon, where the majority of seaweed died out.”
Boat strikes are also a major cause of manatee deaths, having killed at least 63 this year.
The manatee was once classified as critically endangered by the federal government, but was reclassified as threatened in 2017. Conservationists are demanding that the animal be considered critically endangered again.
The federal government says approximately 6,300 manatees live in Florida waters, up from about 1,300 in the early 1990s.