SARASOTA, FL (WWSB) - Manatees are dying at an alarming rate in Florida according to environmental group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Behind the glass windows of the MOTE Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, two manatees appeared to be safe from the deadly factors currently killing their brothers and sisters.
"Mostly our partners with [the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission] have had a lot of calls this year so far with dead and distressed manatees," explained Gretchen Lovewell, Stranding Investigations Program manager for the MOTE Marine Laboratory. "We've had cold weather, we've had red tide, which are both kind of bad things for the manatees in our area."
Statistics from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show 160 manatees have died in just three months.
It's a staggering pace that could exceed the all time record of 803 deaths to date, but also one the MOTE Marine Laboratory said isn't reflective of Sarasota and Manatee counties.
"For our local area we've had three," said Lovewell.
"I'm shocked," said Joseph Catell. He's now a manager at Marina Jack, but also served 29 years in the Coast Guard as a chief warrant officer and has had his run ins with manatees.
"They don't move very fast and that's where we run into problems with the boats we have going at the speeds they go and in the no wake zones and areas like that," Catell explained. "A lot of people aren't aware that [manatees] aren't fast moving and they can't get out of the way."
Cold water, red tide and the third leading cause of death for the mammals? Boaters.
Manatees like to frequent areas like marinas and other in shore areas like the beach, but any boater who sees one is advised to put their boat in neutral.
"A lot of people like to flock to the manatee when they see them which is exactly opposite of what they should be doing," he said. "If you see a manatee, stay clear, give them plenty of space, plenty of area and know that there could be little ones, and traveling in a group or with others and you want to avoid that at all costs."
He also stressed the importance of remaining vigilant at all times behind the wheel of any water vehicle, careful not to hurt any fish or mammals swimming in the water.
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