Florida already reached last year's record manatee deaths by boats

With six weeks left in 2018, Florida already has tied last year's record 107 manatee deaths by boat, putting the Sunshine State on a dark course for the third consecutive record-setting year for watercraft-related fatalities.

But deaths by all causes show a dire year for sea cows, with red tide and boats among the top known killers, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

According to preliminary statistics through Nov. 9, at least 741 manatees have died so far this year in Florida, the highest number in the past five years, and 262 more deaths than the 5-year average up to this point of the year.

Of the deaths, as many as 193 may have been from red tide, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. At least 80 manatees tested positive for the red tide toxin and another 113 are suspected red-tide-related deaths.

Boats accounted for 14 percent of the deaths, lower than the usual 20 percent killed by watercraft.

Boating advocates have long held that Florida is seeing higher manatee deaths from boats and all causes because of the ongoing population growth of the species. 

Florida's annual manatee counts have more than doubled in the past 20 years, to more than 6,000 animals, according to statewide yearly aerial and ground counts. As a result, the federal government reclassified the manatee from an endangered to a threatened species, a less serious designation under the federal Endangered Species Act. 

Last year was an unlucky year for manatees as well. The 538 manatee deaths from all causes in 2017 compare with 472 manatee deaths in 2016 and a five-year average of about 480 deaths. Brevard had 111 manatee deaths last year, including 12 deaths from cold stress.

Last year, FWC identified 63 manatee deaths in which red tide was the cause or suspected cause. That compares to 53 red-tide manatee deaths in 2016, 15 deaths in 2015 and four deaths in 2014. 

In 2013, a record 276 manatees died from red tide.