March 3, 2011

Manatee Death Toll Rising In Florida Waters

Officials are alarmed by the near-record numbers of manatees that have died in Florida waters in early 2011, which is the second straight year of above-average deaths.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, of the 163 manatee deaths recorded from January 1 to February 25, 91 of them have been blamed on cold water temperatures off the southern U.S. state, where normally temperate weather draws the protected sea creatures during winter months.

Manatees live near the coastline, and when weather turns cold they often shelter near springs or in warmer discharge canals at power plants in order to help avoid "cold stress," which is a condition that can weaken and eventually kill the aquatic mammals.

According to the commission, a record 185 manatees died in Florida during the same period last year.

Also, authorities at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also investigating the huge increase in baby dolphin deaths along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

There have been 83 bottle-nosed dolphins found dead in January and February along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

"Direct or indirect effects of the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill event are... among the potential reasons for this increase in strandings," NOAA spokeswoman Kim Amendola said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We have not found an indicator on what could be causing these deaths," but said several factors could have contributed to the deaths including biotoxins, "red tide" algal blooms, or infectious disease, she said.

"We are following the situation closely," she added.

The oil from the spill spread throughout the water column and has worked its way into the bays and shallows where dolphins breed and give birth.

Dolphins breed in the spring and carry their young for 11 to 12 months.

Birthing season goes into full swing in March and April.


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