Subject: Info: Mystery manatee illness spread (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Wed, 10 Apr 1996 08:03:06 -0400 (EDT)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 10 Apr 96 03:29:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Mystery manatee illness spread

Mystery manatee illness spreading

   TALLAHASSEE, Fla., April 9 (UPI) -- The mysterious epidemic that has
been killing manatees in southwest Florida waterways may be spreading to
other parts of the state, environmental officials reported Tuesday.
   Scientists have not been able to identify the virus or bacteria that
has resulted in the deaths of 123 sea cows since March 5.
   Six new manatee carcasses were discovered in Florida waters Tuesday,
and three possible epidemic victims were found outside the southwest
region of the state where the illness was thought to be contained,
authorities said.
   Officials speculated warmer weather was leading manatees to leave
their winter refuges and venture into waters all over Florida.
   "It's a free-for-all. These guys swim wherever they want to," said
manatee pathologist Dr. Scott Wright.
   Since the cause of the illness remained unknown, authorities did not
know if it was contagious.
   "We don't know if it's in them or the environment," Wrightsaid.
   The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the latest
deaths brought to 216 the number of manatees who have died in the state
this year.
   In just over three months, the total has surpassed what had been
Florida's worst year on record for manatee deaths -- 206 in 1990.
   At the rate they died last month, the state's entire sea cow
population, recently estimated at 2,600, would be wiped out in two
   But authorities said that likely would not happen, since the epidemic
has infected only adult manatees.
   The only common symptom among the dead manatees has been discolored,
fluid-filled lungs which often are characteristic of pneumonia,
according to Wright.
   Federal, state and private researchers have joined forces to track
the manatee killer.
   Marine biologists around the world have been sent blood and organ
tissue samples taken from the manatee carcasses, but tests for bacteria
that can cause pneumonia turned up negative.
   The results from one test for a morbillivirus similar to canine
distemper also were negative, as were tests for Red Tide, a toxic algae
bloom that has been prevalent along Florida's southwest coast.
   But some research labs were testing manatee liver samples to see if a
previously undetected strain of Red Tide poisoning could account for the
   Brain tissues were being checked for pesticides or herbicides,
although biologists who tested area waterways for toxins or bacteria
found nothing out of the ordinary.
   Discovery of the cause of the illnesses would not necessarily mean an
end to the epidemic, officials cautioned.
   After a tour of one research lab earlier this week, Gov. Lawton
Chiles said, "The bad thing is when they pin down the cause, they may
not be able to do anything about it."