The majority of recovered manatee carcasses are transported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC), Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory (MMPL) for necropsy.
The Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory (MMPL) is a field laboratory of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) located on the campus of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.
THE MMPL HAS THREE MISSIONS TO PERFORM:
First, the lab is a dedicated member of the Manatee Salvage Program. Staff members respond to reports from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement (FWC LE) and the public concerning dead manatees in the waters of the northwestern sector of Florida. Carcasses of manatees (and other marine mammals) are secured at boat ramps by the FWC LE, MMPL staff or private citizens (under the guidance of MMPL staff) and then loaded onto a flatbed trailer by staff and brought back to the MMPL.
MMPL's second mission is to perform necropsies on manatees and other marine mammals brought to the MMPL from all over the state by our sister field stations and zoological parks such as Lowry Park Zoo, Sea World of Orlando and the Miami Seaquarium. Through the necropsy process, a cause of death is determined. From information gathered on the animals that are brought here, protection plans, land development, boating regulations, and other public policies impacting marine mammals are affected.
Finally, the MMPL is dedicated to research. Staff members perform valuable research of their own as well as gather samples for researchers both at FWRI and other institutions such as Mote Marine Laboratory, the United States Geological Survey, the University of Florida, and Sea World of Orlando. Research done by the MMPL includes aging and life history, mortality assessment, skeletal anatomy and biology, pathology and forensics.
In the past few years, the MMPL has become a valued partner of the FWRI's Education and Information (E&I) division. Staff members have been involved in many outreach programs initiated both by the MMPL and E&I. Staff members have played a big role in the FWRI's annual open house, MarineQuest. Equipment used in everyday operations, displays and activities have been provided at each of the past 'Quests' for children to examine. Skeletal materials to be used as teaching implements and displays are sent to schools, museums and parks throughout the world through the Permanent Loan Program set up by the MMPL. In an effort to promote awareness and to support the vigilance of the public to protect manatees, staff members have visited classrooms and organizational meetings to give instruction in ecology, biology, anatomy, and conservation of the Florida manatee. Displays include: normal skeletal elements, damaged bones and abnormal stomach contents, such as fishing hooks, hair "scrunchies," cigarettes, and prophylactics. These displays demonstrate the effects that small and seemingly harmless objects, such as fishhooks and line, can have weeks, months or even years after they have been discarded.
Photo Credits: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission