Massive Manatee Deaths In 2013 Attributed To Red Tide Algae
October 31, 2013

Massive Manatee Deaths In 2013 Attributed To Red Tide Algae

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, the number of manatee deaths in 2013 has already reached a record high of 769 fatalities and there are still two months left to go in the year. These deaths account for about 15 percent of the total population and specialists expect the number to go even higher before the year is out.

Motor boats, long the greatest mortal enemy of manatees, aren’t to blame for most of the killings. In fact, the number of boating deaths has dropped. Instead, the manatees are being killed by Red Tide algae blooms along with a mysterious ailment that is still under investigation. The previous record year for manatee deaths was 2010 when 766 manatees were found dead after an unusually long stretch of cold weather, with as many as a third of the deaths blamed directly on cold waters.

“With 2013's catastrophic loss of manatee lives coming so close on the heels of the mass mortality suffered during 2010, the already difficult job to ensure the survival of these gentle and defenseless marine mammals has been made all the more challenging, and it's not over yet," explained Patrick Rose, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s executive director, in a statement to AFP.

“What we put into our waters, how much we pump from our aquifer and draw from our springs and rivers, together with how we use our waterways, all has an impact on our own lives and the lives of every aquatic species."

This year the Red Tide algal bloom is being blamed for 276 manatee deaths, the majority of which occurred in Cape Cora-Fort Myers region off the Gulf coast. More than 100 manatees have also died due to unknown causes, but officials are currently investigating what is so dangerous to these animals.

The Red Tide algal bloom is responsible for attacking the sea grass in shallow waters that the manatees eat. All told, the blooms have taken out 47,000 acres of sea grass in the manatees’ ecosystem. Without their normal food, the manatees have taken to eating seaweed. Unfortunately, some of this seaweed has been found to be covered in a “suite of toxins” that has proven to be deadly for the sea cows.

According to one government research chemist, some of the toxins found on this seaweed in the Indian River Lagoon near Palm Bay has yet to be formally identified by science.

The number of boat deaths is down this year, possibly due to the speed zones the state put in place to protect the animals. Yet Rose also says the number of boating deaths may be declining simply because there are fewer manatees to kill every year. The Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the manatees as “threatened” as opposed to “endangered,” but the partial government shutdown slowed their work to count the manatees.

A new study published in the journal Science recently found rising global temperatures are to blame for the increasing toxicity of some algae blooms. As the toxicity of these blooms increase, so too will the amount of toxic cyanobacteria in these blooms. As these deadly bacteria continue to outpace other bacteria, they become stronger and even more dangerous to the ecosystems which they’ve infiltrated.