News Releases

FWC busy responding to manatee deaths

News Release

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Media contact: Kevin Baxter, 727-896-8626

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has stepped up efforts to respond to manatees in distress and determine the cause of death when possible. During 2013, a preliminary total of 829 manatee deaths were documented.

Marine mammal staff from across the state and law enforcement responded to manatees suffering from the effects of red tide in southwest Florida from January through May. Florida red tide, which releases a toxin that affects manatees’ nervous systems, caused the deaths of a record 276 manatees during that period.

Fourteen red-tide-impacted manatees rescued from red tide effects by FWC and partners this year were released during the summer following their successful rehabilitation at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.

Statewide, the FWC and partners rescued 89 manatees in 2013. Many of these rescue efforts began as a result of citizen observations. To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

“We thank the public and our partners for reporting red-tide-affected manatees and assisting us during the event,” said Leslie Ward-Geiger, the FWC’s Marine Mammal Research Program leader. “The efforts of many helped us save these animals.”

The FWC is committed to conservation actions that reduce watercraft-related and other human-caused manatee deaths. With 72 watercraft-related deaths in 2013, the yearly total was below the average of 88 annual deaths over the past five years.

“We are pleased that fewer reported manatees died from watercraft-related causes in 2013,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management Section leader. “We encourage boaters to continue to be vigilant and obey posted speed zones.”

On Florida’s east coast, researchers continue to investigate the cause of death of more than 100 manatees, most of which were recovered in Brevard County. More than 50 of these deaths occurred during the event’s peak in March, while fewer than 10 have been documented since June. The deaths were declared an Unusual Mortality Event in April by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The FWC and our partners are working hard to understand what caused these deaths,” said Ward-Geiger. “Learning the cause of manatee deaths helps to inform wildlife managers about potential emerging issues and aids in the development of appropriate conservation actions.”

While the most recent population models project a stable or increasing manatee population in most areas of the state in the near term, these models do not yet incorporate data from 2010 onward. Updated population models and data from monitoring programs in the coming years will help researchers better understand the long-term implications of recent Unusual Mortality Events on the manatee population.

The most recent statewide aerial surveys conducted during the winter of 2011 documented a total of 4,834 manatees. Statewide aerial surveys were not conducted during the winters of 2012 and 2013 due to warm weather conditions.

Florida residents can help manatees by purchasing a manatee specialty license plate and a manatee decal. The funds from the license plate and decal support manatee research and conservation. Go to BuyaPlate.com to learn more about the license plate and MyFWC.com/ManateeSeaTurtleDecals to purchase a decal. Both items are available at county tax collectors’ offices.

To view preliminary 2013 manatee mortality data, visit MyFWC.com/Research/Manatee and click on “Manatee Mortality Statistics.”

To learn more about manatee conservation, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee.



FWC Facts:
Numerous marine species, like blue crabs, redfish, white shrimp, stingrays, tarpon, are found more than 100 miles upstream in the freshwater portions of the St. Johns River.

Learn More at AskFWC