PRESS RELEASE

Record Manatee Mortality in New Year 

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For Immediate Release:  Monday, February 22, 2021
Contact:  Jerry Phillips (850) 877-8097; Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Record Manatee Mortality in New Year

More Than 300 Die in Six Weeks; Vast Majority Not Necropsied

Washington, DC — The first six weeks of 2021 have seen unprecedented mortality for Florida’s manatees, according to state statistics posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listings for the period between January 1 and February 12, 2021, indicate that 317 manatees have died during this short period.  This total is more than half of the five-year annual average for manatee mortality of 578.  In addition –
  • The vast majority (211) were not necropsied, unlike prior years.  This lapse is ascribed to COVID.  The total number of un-necropsied manatees in the first six weeks of 2021 is already equal to the un-necropsied total for 2020;
  • The absence of necropsies means that no cause of death is listed.  As a result, the role of contributing factors such as collisions with watercraft, which had reached a peak in 2019, is no longer discernible; and

The count of manatees in Florida’s synoptic survey is in decline, from an estimated 6,620 in early 2017 to only 5,733 in 2019, the date of the last state aerial survey of all wintering habitats.

“Florida may be moving into a manatee extinction crisis,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting the Florida manatee is classified as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.  “With climate change and competition among the manatees for warm water and limited foraging grounds, recent gains in the manatee population are being quickly reversed,” added Whitehouse, who noted that the synoptic survey found just 1,267 manatees in 1991.

One factor that has emerged this year is death from cold stress.  Already, 38 manatees have succumbed to cold stress in 2021, a number approaching the average loss for an entire year from that cause.  These figures do not include impacts from this past week’s cold snap.

“By far, the largest determinant of manatee survival is human behavior,” added Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former Department of Environmental Protection enforcement attorney whose research highlights how shriveling water pollution enforcement is tied to increases in algal blooms and red tide events that are lethal to Florida marine life.  “Habitat loss, boat collisions, lack of foraging areas, and toxic red tides are three leading causes of manatee deaths, and all are within our ability to curb.”

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Look at 2021 manatee mortality stats through mid-February 

View 2020 manatee deaths

Trace manatee mortality trend in recent years

Compare manatee population estimates

Examine decline in Florida pollution enforcement