Florida reports 86 manatee deaths by watercraft

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A preliminary report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says there were 416 manatee deaths in state waters in 2006 compared to 396 in 2005, the FWC reported in a release this week.

Scientists are unsure whether the increase reflects manatee population growth, increased mortality or better detection of carcasses. However, the best available science indicates that Florida’s manatee population is stable or growing in all regions of the state except the Southwest, which may contain more than a third of the statewide population, the group stated.

The FWC report indicates watercraft-related mortalities and red tide contributed to more than half of the total deaths in 2006 in instances where scientists could determine the cause of death.

The 86 watercraft-related manatee deaths in 2006 are the second highest on record for that category. As a result, FWC law enforcement will enforce a special manatee speed zone detail this weekend.

The FWC is urging boaters to abide by manatee speed zones and assuring law-abiding boaters who hit manatees that they will not receive citations if they report such accidents. Accident reports provide valuable information for sharpening manatee protection efforts.

“It is always sad to see such high numbers, especially in watercraft-caused mortality, but these numbers shed some light on the measures we can take in our commitment to reducing human-related threats to manatees and possibly other threats,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “With continued human population growth and enjoyment of the outdoors, we must all be diligent in the conservation and protection of this gentle animal.”

Scientists use population models to estimate manatee population growth. Although the most recent analysis indicates manatee numbers have been stable or growing in many parts of the state, some areas may require more attention, the FWC stated.

“The FWC is aware of that,” Barreto said. “But the bottom line is the FWC and other parties are taking steps that have moved manatees away from the threat of imminent extinction, and will continue to nurture them along the road to full recovery and use whatever tools it takes.”

For more information on manatee mortality research or to comment on FWC’s manatee management plan, visit MyFWC.com and click on “manatees.”

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