Since 1991, the population of Florida manatees has seen an encouraging 500% increase. This growth has been cause for celebration, but it has also seemed to make some people complacent when it comes to protecting this species.
Despite the promising increases, the gentle creatures still face an imminent threat that is killing hundreds of them every single year. The evidence for this danger is often visible right on their very own bodies.
What is it that’s causing so many manatees to lose their lives, even as their overall numbers slowly rebound? The answer is almost too obvious…
Over the last 25 years or so, the Florida manatee population has increased by over 500%. This is in no small part thanks to the work of conservationists who have been raising awareness and helping to implement protections for these sweet animals. Still, the manatees are not out of the water just yet (so to speak).
Frequently, manatees have been seen with lacerations all over their bodies. These painful injuries ultimately result in the deaths of hundreds of the gentle sea creatures every year—there were 104 in 2016 alone!
The manatee population might be rebounding, but they’re still not out of the danger zone entirely. So, what exactly is causing these gruesome injuries, and what can be done about it?
It may seem obvious, but these often fatal injuries are caused by boat motors. “Manatees are these wonderful, graceful, large aquatic animals, but the fact of the matter is, they don’t move fast,” science and outreach coordinator for Save the Manatee Club, Jenna Golden, explained in an interview.
Not only are they naturally slow-moving, but manatees are also mammals, which means they have to frequently surface for air. This makes them the perfect targets for wayward boat motors. They’re practically sitting ducks!
To prevent these sort of incidents, many of the coastal waterways in which the manatees live offer speed regulations. Still, this is nowhere near enough to completely stop what’s being done to these lumbering sea cows.
In fact, Jenna believes that the number of manatees lost to boat-motor incidents is larger than reported. “There’s always a very large number of unknown deaths, and it’s likely that many of those are also related to boat strikes,” she said.
The most tragic incidents are the ones that take the lives of mothers with milk-dependent babies. “If the mom is hit, and the mom dies, that can obviously then lead you to a situation where you have an orphaned calf,” Jenna expounded.
“So if a manatee is rescued in response to a boat strike, and it has a dependent calf with her, they rescue the calf as well, because the calf cannot survive on her own.” How awful is that?
While some manatees who have been hit are rehabilitated by animal experts, others have simply learned to live with their wounds. One manatee, appropriately named “No Tail,” gets around without two-thirds of his tail.
According to the Save The Manatee Club, an estimated 90% of Florida manatees show signs of boat collisions. With these sobering statistics in mind, it’s easy to see why Jenna believes more manatees lose their lives to these events than are reported.
The motors aren’t the only threats to manatees either. Algal blooms, caused by warming waters and nutrient runoff from agriculture and water treatment plants, have been killing the seagrasses that the manatees like to eat. When that happens, the manatees will turn to red seaweed, which can actually kill them.
Another threat to the manatees is the increasing number of boaters in general. If you or anyone you know likes to go boating in Florida, have them take a look at these safety tips for how to avoid injuring these gentle animals.
“Everything comes down to education and awareness,” Jenna concluded. “We need to understand that manatees are still facing these issues, and be responsible in terms of your waterways, and be responsible in terms of our daily actions. The oceans are all connected, and we need to keep it a nice, healthy place.”
The manatee might just be one of the most innocent and gentle creatures on the planet. It’s a shame they face so many threats, but hopefully people can stay educated and we can all protect them from further harm.
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