Experts puzzled over huge spike in Florida manatee deaths

FWC says most deaths occurred locally

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is investigating a huge spike in manatee deaths across the state while biologists and other experts are left wondering why so many of the threatened species are dying.

In the first six weeks of 2021, there were 317 manatee deaths across the state, according to the FWC. That’s almost half of all deaths reported in Florida for all of last year when 638 manatees died.

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“You also have probably another 40 manatees that have had to be rescued as well,” said Patrick Rose, a biologist and the executive director of the local Save the Manatee Club. “Your choice is between saving a living manatee in trouble or doing the necessary research and necropsies and so forth on the dead manatees, you’ve got to first put your timing into saving those sick and injured.”

Of the 317 deaths, 211 haven’t been necropsied due to limited resources. That means experts don’t know how they died but Rose has an idea.

“It looks like it’s an extenuation of severe losses of food resources for the manatees, which the base of that being the sea grass,” he said.

Rose said seagrass is killed by too many nutrients in the system from ground and surface water flowing in.

“Generally, they could just leave on a little warmer day and go feed somewhere nearby but there isn’t really a significant food source nearby anymore,” he said.

Most of the deaths are in the Indian River Lagoon’s system: Volusia County has had nine, Indian River reported 11, Palm Beach had 23, 21 in Martin and Brevard County had the most in the state at 131 deaths.

“Brevard County records in this short of time is going to be, I believe, the worst we’ve ever had,” Rose said.

An FWC spokesperson said the agency is going to keep investigating this. Boaters are urged to call FWC if they see a manatee in distress so they can come out and help.

You can call FWC’s Wildlife Alert toll-free number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or #FWC on a cellphone if you see a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee.

The FWC also provided these tips on how you can help:

  • Boaters will find them easier to spot if they wear polarized sunglasses and keep a lookout for signs of manatees such as the circular “footprints” they trace on the top of the water or their snouts sticking up out the water.
  • Look, but don’t touch manatees. Keep your distance when boating, even if you are steering a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Be a good role model for others so that they learn how to watch and enjoy manatees without disturbing the animals.

You can also donate to the Save the Manatee Club for research and find more ways to help at their website,