Record number of manatee deaths affects businesses who depend on sightings

FWC: 988 manatees have died this year

PONCE INLET, Fla. – Manatees are dying in record numbers in Florida and new data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows the trend is not getting better. The ecosystem is not the only thing taking a hit from their deaths but businesses are too.

“Unfortunately, this year it’s just been a real tough year. We’ve noticed a big decline in manatee sightings,” Mike Mulholland said.

Mulholland runs “The Manatee,” a scenic boat tour out of Ponce Inlet. He said typically, depending on the time of year, they can promise their customers they’ll see them.

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“We could see pods of upwards of 20 manatees at any given time and unfortunately, we did not see any of that this past year,” he said.

New data provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife show 988 have died this year so far. That’s more than the previous two years combined.

Biologists said they’re starving to death because chemicals like fertilizer have killed off most of the seagrass they eat. The Indian River Lagoon, which runs into New Smyrna Beach where Mulholland takes his tour, has been the hardest hit in the state.

“We have seen some that are very injured, but we did see one this past season that was deceased and floating in the river,” he said.

It’s a tough explanation to make to paying customers.

“We try to avoid it as best we can. We don’t want to upset anyone, especially children,” he said.

Mulholland said they warn people booking tickets that the chance of seeing a manatee is slim right now but some have still left negative reviews about his business because they didn’t see one.

“We supplement with dolphin, thank God we have our bottlenose dolphin, because that helps,” he said.

With a life and career devoted to being on the water, Mulholland hopes people start taking this crisis seriously.

“We need to step up and we need to get a grip on what’s causing this,” he said.

If you do see a manatee you think is sick or hurt, report it to the FWC by dialing #FWC on your cell phone.

About the Author:

Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.