Subject: Info: Mystery manatee epidemic sprea (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Fri, 5 Apr 1996 09:03:27 -0500 (EST)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 5 Apr 96 12:19:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Mystery manatee epidemic sprea

Mystery manatee epidemic spreading

   TALLAHASSEE, Fla., April 4 (UPI) -- Environmental officials said
Thursday the mystery epidemic that has killed 110 manatees in southwest
Florida waters since March 5 is spreading.
   The outbreak had been confined to a 25-mile stretch near Fort Myers,
but manatee carcasses have now been recovered as far as 50 miles from
that city.
   "Originally, we were finding carcasses only in or close to the Gulf
of Mexico," said Joy Mills, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of
Environmental Protection, or FDEP. "But now we're also finding them in
some inland estuaries and rivers."
   As the carcasses are recovered each day, they are taken to FDEP's
Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg, where scientists perform
necropsies to determine cause of death and take numerous blood and
tissue samples for analysis.
   But they had yet to determine what virus or bacteria has been
infecting the manatees. FDEP said the only common symptom between the
victims is they all had lung legions indicating pneumonia.
   "One of the challenges of this mortality episode has been that we
aren't finding any sick animals, and we need a control group to be able
to determine what is abnormal," said Scott Wright, marine mammal
pathologist for the state.
   Earlier this week, FDEP researchers and manatee experts from SeaWorld
in Orlando captured six live manatees and extracted blood samples.
   The samples are to be analyzed and compared to blood collected from
the dead manatees.
   Wright said whatever is causing the disease may be present in the
control group's blood but for some reason absent from the blood of the
animals that have already died.
   "The story of every animal runs through its veins," said Wright.
"While we don't expect to find the answer, we hope to be able to gain
some important insight."
   All of the live manatees captured this week were tagged before being
released, so if any of them turn up dead later, pathologists could gain
insight into theincubation period if an infectious disease is to blame
or obtain other clues about the cause of death.
   Including the epidemic victims, 198 manatees have died statewide
since the beginning of the year, only three less than the total for all
of 1995.
   "Passing the 100 mark is a grave milestone that saddens us all,"
said FDEP Secretary Virginia Wetherell.
   Since all but one of the epidemic victims were adult sea cows,
authorities are not concerned the endangered manatee population of
Florida could be wiped out.
   "At this point, the juveniles are not being affected, so we don't
want to be alarmists and say that the population of manatees is going to
drop off the face of the earth, because we're not in that situation,"
Mills said.
   "In addition, in any epidemic situation, some part of the population
develops a resistance," she said.
   Before the epidemic began, environmental officials had estimated
there were 2,600 manatees in Florida waters.