Subject: Info: Manatee death toll reaches 97 (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Fri, 5 Apr 1996 09:02:08 -0500 (EST)

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Date: Fri, 5 Apr 96 12:18:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Manatee death toll reaches 97

Manatee death toll reaches 97

   FORT MYERS, Fla., April 2 (UPI) -- Environmental officials said
Tuesday the mystery epidemic that has been killing manatees in the
waters of southwest Florida has claimed two more victims, bringing to at
least 97 the number killed since March 5.
   They also said an unusual number of bird kills in the area were not
related to the epidemic.
   All but one of the sea cow carcasses retrieved by authorities were
those of otherwise healthy adult animals; a dead one-month-old manatee
was discovered Monday.
   "We don't know if the discovery of the baby is significant or not,"
said Joy Mills, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental
   The only common symptom has been discolored, fluid-filled lungs,
often characteristic of pneumonia, according to officials.
   FDEP has assigned more than 70 workers to investigate the epidemic
along a 25-mile stretch of water near Fort Myers.
   Marine biologists around the world have been sent organ tissue
samples taken from the manatee carcasses, but so far have not identified
the virus or whatever is believed to kill the manatees less than four
days after infecting them.
   FDEP has decided to focus on live manatees, according to Mills.
   "We're taking blood samples from healthy manatees in order to
establish a control group," she said. "We want to find out differences
between their blood and the samples we've gotten from those that have
   Biologists who tested area waterways for toxins or bacteria have
found nothing out of the ordinary, except for an outbreak of Red Tide
that authorities said was not responsible for the manatee deaths.
   The Red Tide, a mass of organisms that give the water a reddish tint
and deplete oxygen levels, was blamed for the deaths of dozens of fish-
eating, sea-diving loons in the region, however.
   "The birds were eating fish that had absorbed toxins from the Red
Tide," explained Mills.
   "A significant bird kill is not unusual in Red Tide situations,"
she added, contradicting a published report that whatever was killing
the manatees was also infecting birds.
   Scientists do not believe the epidemic will spread to other marine
mammals, and said there is no evidence to suggest the virus could infect
   But they were concerned about its possible impact on Florida's
population of endangered manatees, which officials thought numbered 2,
600 before the epidemic began.
   Further to the north along the Gulf coast, researchers were dealing
with another epidemic which affected the endangered green sea turtle
   Officials at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium said since November, they
have treated 22 of the turtles for spongelike tumors that have grown on
the animals' eyes, necks and flippers.
   They said the disease causing the tumors can be fatal.