Subject: Manatee:Scientists probe manatee death (fwd)

Mike Williamson (
Mon, 17 Nov 1997 13:56:42 -0500 (EST)


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Date: Sat, 15 Nov 97 14:43:00 GMT 
Subject: Scientists probe manatee death

Scientists probe manatee deaths in Florida

    By Jim Loney
     MIAMI (Reuters) - Marine scientists are trying to determine
whether a red tide outbreak on Florida's west coast is
responsible for the deaths of nine endangered manatees in the
past week, state officials said Wednesday.
     In the spring of 1996, an unusual occurrence of cold weather
and red tide, an algae that releases a substance that can be
poisonous, killed 149 of the lumbering sea cows.
     The latest red tide outbreak was confined to a relatively
small area near the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River near
Sanibel Island, about 20 miles from Ft. Myers, officials said.
     Nine dead manatees had been found in the area since last
Thursday, the latest Wednesday morning, Department of
Environmental Protection spokeswoman Wendy Quigley said.
     "They (scientists) are looking to see of it is related to
the red tide," she said. "Tissue samples have been sent out
for analysis."
     The Florida manatee, a gentle, leatherymarine mammal that
averages 10 feet in length and 1,000 pounds , dates back at
least 45 million years.
     It has no natural enemies save humans, yet has hovered on
the edge of extinction for years. State researchers estimated
earlier this year that just over 2,200 remain in the wild.
     Each year dozens of manatees are killed by speeding boats,
disease or cold weather. But the die-off in the spring of 1996
was unprecedented.
     Researchers determined that 149 manatees were killed in
March and April last year by ingesting brevetoxin, a poison
released by red tide algae.
     In humans, neurotoxins affect the nervous system, causing
the victim to lose muscle control and stop breathing.
Researchers believe the effect is similar in manatees.
     Red tide blooms are common off Florida's west coast, but
usually stay well offshore. The 1996 manatee die-off was caused
in part by an unusual combination of the red tide moving close
to shore at the same time that manatees had been driven south by
cold weather, seeking warmer waters.
     A total of 415 manatees died in state waters last year, the
largest total since researchers began keeping records.