Subject: Info: Mystery illness still killing (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 1 Apr 1996 18:31:38 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 1 Apr 96 02:34:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Mystery illness still killing

Mystery illness still killing manatees

   TALLAHASSEE, Fla., March 28 (UPI) -- Three more dead manatees were
discovered Thursday in southwest Florida waterways, bringing to 86 the
number killed in the region since March 5 by a mysterious illness.
   Scientists from as far away as the Netherlands have been working to
determine the cause of the epidemic, but so far they have been unable to
identify the virus or bacteria they suspect is felling the manatees.
   "We're not finding any sick manatees, just dead ones," said Joy
Mills, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental
Protection. "That's an indication that whatever it is causes them to
die quickly."
   The only common symptoms among the dead manatees has been discolored,
fluid-filled lungs, which often are characteristic of pneumonia,
officials said.
   The state of Florida has sought assistance from around the nation in
order to put an end to the epidemic, which has resulted in the highest
number of manatee fatalities everrecorded in such a short period.
   More than a dozen scientists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Biological Survey
have committed resources to the project.
   In addition, marine mammal scientists from the University of Florida,
the University of Miami and the Miami Seaquarium were reviewing tissue
and blood samples from manatee carcasses.
   Dr. Albert Osterhaus, a world-renowned virologist from Esterhaus
University in the Netherlands, also volunteered his services.
   Following federal guidelines set by the Marine Mammal Protection Act,
the state also requested technical advice from a working group that
helped put an end to a bottlenose dolphin die-off in Texas and a sea
otter mortality event in California last year.
   The group will act as a sounding board for theories and research
initiatives related to the manatee deaths.
   "This is a tragic situation, but the cooperation and outpouring of
support has been overwhelming," said Virginia Wetherell, Florida's top
environmental protection official.
   The manatee deaths have occurred in a 25-mile stretch near the city
of Fort Myers, on the state's southwest coast. There are an estimated 2,
600 manatees in Florida waters.
   Biologists were sampling waterways in the area for toxins or bacteria
but had found nothing unusual.
   Scientists do not believe the illness will spread to other marine
mammals, and said there is no evidence to suggest it could infect
   But they said its possible impact on the population of the endangered
manatee may not be known for some time.
   "This event, and the resulting research, is unprecedented," said
manatee pathologist Dr. Scott Wright. "We're breaking new ground here
in terms of trying to isolate and identify a fatal marine mammal
   "This is a mystery of nature and it may take months to find the
answers," he said.