Unusually cold weather and frigid waters last winter killed Florida’s endangered manatees at a record rate.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) documented 699 manatee deaths from the beginning of the year through Dec. 5, a 63% increase over 2009, the previous record year for manatee deaths with 429 recorded.
Over half died from cold stress or cold-related problems.
So far, that is the highest death toll since 1974 when scientists began keeping records of manatee mortality.
“Causes other than cold stress did not differ substantially from those in recent years,” said Gil McRae, the director of the institute. “Watercraft mortalities were slightly lower than those in recent years, and that was likely due to a combination of lower boat traffic and manatee migration due to cold water.”
A statewide synoptic survey in January estimate that there are only around 5,000 manatees left in Florida waters.
“We are very concerned about the unusually high number of manatee deaths this year. The cold-related deaths in past winter emphasize the importance of warm weather habitat to the Florida manatee,” McRae said.