The FWC has noticed an unusual number of manatee deaths along the Atlantic coast of Florida in the beginning of 2021. Between January 1 and April 9, 2021, 649 manatee deaths were reported—more than in the entire year of 2020. If this troubling trend continues, 2021 could be one of the deadliest years in a decade for the state’s marine mammal.
The FWC and the federal government are working together to determine what is causing this “Unusual Mortality Event,” but it is suspected that the manatees are starving due to a lack of food, namely seagrass. Seagrass is declining due to development and water pollution. Cold weather, including several cold snaps this winter, could also be contributing to the manatees’ deaths, as their bodies are sensitive to the cold—indeed, water temperatures below 68 degrees can sicken them with cold stress. As Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, explains: “It’s this combination we have of cold weather, we have a reduction of where manatees can go, and in the places where manatees can go, as a consequence of human development and other activities, we have poor water quality which has resulted in these grass die-offs.”
Brittany Muller, “Florida’s manatees dying at alarming rates,” News 4 Jax, April 17, 2021, https://www.news4jax.com/news/local/2021/04/17/floridas-manatees-dying-at-alarming-rates/
Chris Perkins, “Florida manatees are dying at an alarming rate. Contaminated canals are partially to blame,” South Florida Sun Sentinel, March 17, 2021, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article249959239.html#:~:text=Most%2Dloved%20mammal%20in%20Florida%3A%20The%20Manatee&text=State%20officials%20say%20432%20manatees,Fish%20and%20Wildlife%20Conservation%20Commission.
Zachary T. Sampson, “Florida manatees are dying at a worrisome rate. Many appear to be starving.” Tampa Bay Times, March 11, 2021, https://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/2021/03/11/florida-manatees-are-dying-at-an-alarming-rate-many-are-starving/
Chad Gillis, “Florida manatees are dying in droves this year. Experts blame poor water quality, starvation,” Feb. 27, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/02/27/florida-manatee-deaths-way-up-2021-experts-blame-water-quality/6817814002/
Rebecca Renner, “More than 430 manatees have perished in 2021. Why are they dying?” National Geographic, March 17, 2021, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/430-florida-manatees-have-died-in-2021