Subject: Info: Dying Manatees (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Thu, 4 Jul 1996 16:22:37 -0400 (EDT)


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 4 Jul 96 11:35:00 UTC 0000
Subject: Dying Manatees

Dying Manatees

 Associated Press Writer
   ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- Scientists who spent four months
searching for the cause of an illness that killed a record number
of endangered manatees this year have found the culprit: a natural
outbreak of red tide.
   The announcement Tuesday was good news because it means the 158
deaths weren't caused by an infectious disease and the gentle sea
cows aren't in danger of spreading it among themselves or carrying
it to other areas.
   But because a natural event caused the deaths, there's no way to
prevent it from happening again.
   "These are natural occurrences. Large numbers of animals die
but we can't control it. You can't stop a volcano," said Dr.
Thierry Work, a scientist from the National Wildlife Health Center.
   Red tide is a toxic micro-organism that accumulates in
shellfish. When the manatee deaths began in March, the red tide
bloom was the worst it had been at that time of year since 1982,
when a similar manatee die-off took place.
   Between March 5 and April 27, 158 manatees in southwest Florida
died because of the outbreak. And so far in 1996, a record 304 of
the whiskered, walruslike animals have died in the state.
   Many of the other manatees that died were hit by motorboats or
were victims of the severe winter. The previous record was 206
deaths in 1990.
   Racing to pinpoint the cause of the unexplained deaths, the
federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and
the National Marine Fisheries Service had sent scientists to test
the water and blood samples for unnatural toxins.
   Initially, scientists said red tide wasn't the cause because the
pace of deaths was quicker than during previous red tide outbreaks,
said Scott Wright, chief scientist for the Department of
Environmental Protection. Scientists suspected a viral infection.
   They now say the harsh winter forced the manatees into warmer
waters, exposing more of them to red tide.
   Scientists believe the manatees atelethal doses of the toxin
while feeding on sea grass in the infected areas. The manatees may
also have inhaled the toxins, Wright said.
   Manatees migrate from the Carolinas to Florida every winter.
They have inhabited Florida's waters for the past 45 million years,
but due in part to increasing motorboat traffic, their numbers have
dwindled to about 2,600.