MANATEE COUNTY - This year's red tide appears to be more dangerous for sea life than in past years.
State wildlife officials say the algae bloom off Florida's west coast is killing more than just fish. It's also killing scores of manatees.
Preliminary numbers indicate 174 manatees have died as a result of this year’s red tide -- the highest number of deaths in a single calendar year on record.
The gentle giants of the sea just can't seem to catch a break. In addition to boat propellers and cold weather, you can add red tide to the list of manatee killers. “To see these kinds of numbers, it's not only sad, but it's a serious concern. An endangered species simply means there are not that many to begin with. You hate to see something like this further decrease the numbers.”
As of Monday, 174 sea cows reported dead. The majority were found in Lee County.
The red time bloom affects about 70 miles, from Sarasota down to Pine Island. “Occasionally, we saw this in 1983 and 1996. They all congregate in warm water areas to get out of the cold water, so the red tide is where the manatees are right now.”
These manatees are some of the lucky ones. Snooty and his two companions live at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. It's where Jeff Rodgers feeds them fresh lettuce daily, and it's something he wishes he can do for every manatee that's not in captivity right about now since the deadly algae is attaching to the sea grass manatees eat. “When the manatees ingest it, it works as a neurotoxin and paralyzes the throat. They aren’t able to lift their heads. They essentially go comatose, so they are drowning.”
It’s a sad story for one of the world's most lovable underwater creatures, and no telling when this deadly bloom may diminish.
Florida Fish and Wildlife officials are asking that if you find a manatee in distress or dead in this area to you contact the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC.