2013 - A bad year for Florida sea cows

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. - Florida Manatees are a state treasure. The gentle giants, sometimes called sea cows, can be found feeding on aquatic plants and enjoying the warm waters around the state.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg has been studying and tracking manatee deaths since the 1970’s. In the nearly 40 years of research, this has been the first time the manatee mortality rate has climbed over 800.

“Through December 13th, we’ve documented 803 manatee deaths for 2013,” said Fish and Wildlife Research Institute spokesmen Kevin Baxter.

Manatees are susceptible to red tide and a bad outbreak earlier in this year took its toll on the marine mammals.

“Red tide caused 276 manatee deaths and that is also a record for cause [of death].”

The old record for manatee deaths was 766 in 2010 when large numbers of manatees died from cold stress due to a lengthy cold snap.

There is some good news for the slow moving marine mammals in 2013. The number of fatalities caused by humans in boats is at a five year low.

“The water craft number is actually below the five year average right now at 71,” said Baxter.

Other good news, 14 manatees found infected with red tide bacteria earlier this year were successfully rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

The total state population of manatees is estimated to be around 5,000.

If you happen to see a sick or injured manatee, Florida Fish and Wildlife officials encourage you to report it by calling their manatee hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). Cell phone users can dial *FWC.