Info: Scientists mystified by manate (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 18 Mar 1996 13:33:23

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Subject: Info: Scientists mystified by manate (fwd)
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Date: Sun, 17 Mar 96 04:43:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Scientists mystified by manate
Scientists mystified by manatee deaths
   FORT MYERS, Fla., March 15 (UPI) -- Marine biologists said Friday they
are puzzled by an unknown infection that is killing manatees in the
waters of southwest Florida.
   The state Department of Environmental Protection said at least 33
dead adult sea cows have been found in the past 10 days.
   Scientists earlier this week set up a makeshift morgue at the Ding
Darling National Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, where biologists
have been taking samples of each animal's organs, blood and tissue,
sending them off to labs for further examination.
   "We won't know very much about what's killing them until we hear
what the labs have to say," said DEP spokeswoman Kathalyn Gaither.
   The results were expected to be known by early next week.
   "All we know now is that they all died of pneumonia," said Gaither,
but it is not known what caused the manatees to become stricken.
   The epidemic so far has been confined to a 25-mile stretch near the
city of Fort Myers, along Florida's Gulf coast.
   Officials checked for water and air pollution in the area, but found
nothing out of the ordinary.
   Not since scientists began keeping records 20 years ago have so many
manatees died in such a short period. Mortality among Florida manatees
is normally 150 to 200 annually.
   Both males and females have died, and all were well-nourished with no
other disease or injury.
   "This is happening very rapidly," said Dr. Scott Wright, a marine
mammal pathobiologist with DEP.
   "The tissue samples that we've collected are telling us a story that
we've never seen or heard before."
   DEP Secretary Virginia Wetherell said her agency was pulling out all
the stops in an effort to halt the rash of manatee deaths.
   "We're working around the clock to determine the exact cause of
death, and hope to learn how we can prevent this from happening in the
future," said Wetherell.