TAMPA — Among the major causes of deaths of manatees this year was the red tide bloom that lapped against the shores of Southwest Florida last fall and winter.
According to the Save the Manatee Club, this year already has gone down as the deadliest ever for Florida’s endangered sea mammals, and the year still has two months to go.
Between Jan. 1 and Tuesday, 769 manatees died, the most in Florida since record keeping began, club officials said.
The previous record was set in 2010, when biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission counted 766 dead manatees. That year, 11 consecutive days of sub-freezing temperatures around the state was blamed for killing manatees in coastal rivers and springs.
Nearly twice the number of manatees have died than in all of 2012.
Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the Save the Manatee Club, said the deaths of 276 manatees were directly attributed to exposure to the red-tide epidemic that vexed Southwest Florida last winter. Most of those deaths were around Lee County, she said.
A different mysterious algae claimed more than 100 manatees on Florida’s east coast, in the Brevard County area, she said.
“This year’s record-breaking manatee mortality is a loud and clear signal that our waterways are in trouble,” she said.
Among the dead: 123 stillborn or less than 5 feet in length, nearly half dying in Brevard County, the epicenter for the presence of algal bloom that also claimed 47,000 acres of seagrass since 2010.
Patrick Rose, executive director of the club, said record deaths, no matter the reason, is catastrophic.
“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,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
“We must be better stewards of our waters and waterways or suffer even more severe consequences going forward.”