Subject: Info: Dying Manatees (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Wed, 10 Apr 1996 07:58:35 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 96 03:30:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Dying Manatees

Dying Manatees

 Associated Press Writer
   ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Manatees have lived in Florida's
waters for 45 million years, but a mysterious epidemic that is
killing the gentle sea cows in record numbers has scientists racing
against time.
   Wielding filet knives, marine biologists have been slicing
through carcasses looking for the cause of the pneumonia they
believe is killing many of the whiskered, barnacle-covered beasts
so quickly.
   The federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has joined
the effort, and the National Marine Fisheries Service is also
sending a specialist to test the water and blood samples for
unnatural toxins.
   "It's terrible to see," said Gov. Lawton Chiles, standing in
front of a steel table with two manatee carcasses during a
laboratory tour on Monday. "We're trying every way we can to find
out what's happening."
   In the first four months of this year, 210 of the endangered
animals have died. In the past month alone, 120 of that total have
died in southwest Florida from the mysterious pneumonia.
   The previous record was 206 manatee deaths in all of 1990, most
of them from cold water stress and motorboats that often hit the
large, slow-moving creatures.
   In February 1995, state environmental officials counted 2,639
manatees statewide -- the highest manatee population count in recent
   But by year's end, 201 manatees, or 9 percent of the known
population, had died -- the second-highest number of deaths since
the state began counting the animals in 1974. However, the
pneumonia was not identified until this year and the cause of the
high number of deaths last year was not clear.
   The surge in unexplained deaths has scientists worried about the
future of the manatees, which migrate from the Carolinas to Florida
every winter and huddle in warm water when the temperature dips.
   At first, they suspected the deaths in southwest Florida might
have been caused by the unusually cold weather this winter,which
was responsible for many of the manatee deaths in other parts of
the state.
   But these manatees were large and healthy adults who knew to
find warmer water near area power plants, said Dr. Scott Wright,
chief scientist for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Cold weather deaths are more likely found in very small, young
   Wright said scientists suspect a viral infection that is causing
the pneumonia or a previously undocumented type of red tide, a
toxic micro-organism that accumulates in shellfish, even though
preliminary tests showed no signs of it.
   The results of tests on the blood, organs and tissue of the dead
manatees, which should help identify and isolate any potential
viruses, are expected back this week, Wright said. Scientists also
have prepared brain tissue samples to look for the presence of
pesticides or herbicides.
   Despite the best efforts of scientists, however, Wright is not
confident that the epidemic can be stopped any time soon.
   "The sad thing is that even if we can find out what this is,
chances are, we won't be able to solve it," he said. "The reality
is, that whatever it is, we may not be able to cure it."