A staggering number of Florida manatees have died this year, making 2013 the deadliest year yet for these gentle sea giants. In total, 769 manatees have died since January – that’s nearly double last year’s death count. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, toxic algal blooms and rising global temperatures are largely to blame for the increased mortality rate, which is expected to rise even higher before the year is done.
According to biologists, over 35 percent of the manatee death toll can be traced to this year’s unusually large and lengthy algal blooms. These harmful algal blooms, also known as Red Tides, occur when algae colonies grow out of control and inject large amounts of toxins into the water. If ingested, the toxins can be lethal to animals and can even cause respiratory problems in people.
This year’s massive Red Tide outbreaks may have been caused by chemical runoff and rising global temperatures. “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,” Patrick Rose, Executive Director of Save The Manatee Club, said in a release.
Facing regular threats such as motorboat accidents and habitat destruction, as well as these more unusual events, over 15 percent of Florida’s manatee population has been killed. The last record death toll, which was set in 2010, resulted from an unusual cold snap that killed hundreds of manatees, contributing to a mortality rate of 766 that year.