SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Wildlife experts are sounding the alarm after a steady increase in the number of manatees being killed by boats.
We’re only halfway through the year and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 89 manatees have already died from boat inflicted injuries across the state. That’s 24 more than the 65 killed during this same period last year and 35 more than the 54 killed during this period in 2017.
Did you know manatees don’t have eyelids? They don’t have ear lobes either, but they can still hear very well. The so-called “sea cows” average 1,000 pounds even though their diet only consists of seagrass and other aquatic plants. They move very slowly, typically needing come up for air every three to five minutes, which often puts them right in the path of a deadly propeller.
“Their lungs kind of lay along their back, as well as their kidneys," explained Gretchen Lovewell, stranding investigations program manager with Mote Marine Laboratory. "So when they suffer those boat strikes, a lot of times they will hit those lungs or kidneys. So that’s pretty much the cause of death for those animals.”
It’s been happening at an alarming rate, according to the data from the FWC. At this rate, officials say the number of manatees that have been killed by boaters could reach an all time high this year.
“It’s pretty serious," said Lovewell. "We’re dealing with, even though they’ve been down-listed, they’re still threatened, so we’re dealing with a population that’s already at risk.”
Manatees are known to frequent Sarasota Bay.
“In general reference from there, to our right, is kind of the whole manatee zone,” showed Riley Baugh and Dylan Heinz, coaches for Sarasota Youth Sailing.
They say they’re out on the water teaching kids how to sail five days a week and spot manatees often.
“Yeah, at least one every other day,” the coaches agreed.
So to protect them, Mote said boaters should always obey those slow speed signs.
“They’re put there based on manatee habitat,” Lovewell added.
Boaters can also buy polarized sunglasses, which are great for helping to see any sea life under the water. ‘Stowing before you go’ is good practice too, to make sure nothing unsafe flies overboard.
Experts said you should also have a designated “manatee spotter” to watch out for manatees and other wildlife.
In Sarasota Bay, only one manatee has been killed by a boat this year, but it was just last month.
In Manatee County, three manatees have died after being hit.
Experts said they can’t pinpoint an exact reason why there’s been such a steady increase, but speculate it could be because there are more boaters using less caution on the water.
For more information about manatees and how to avoid hitting them while boating, click here.
For the complete FWC report of statistics showing the manatee’s mortality rate, click here.
Boaters who think they may have hit a manatee are urged to call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922).
Staff ask that you be prepared to answer the following questions:
- What is the exact location of the animal?
- Is the manatee alive or dead?
- How long have you been observing the manatee?
- What is the approximate size of the manatee?
- What is the location of the public boat ramp closest to the manatee?
- Can you provide a contact number where you can be reached for further information?