Manatee mothers with their calves can be found in waters throughout Florida. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hopes boaters will take care in waters where manatees are known to inhabit.

A few more manatees have died this year than last year.

Once again, collisions with boats are to blame, state wildlife officials say.

Florida wildlife officers documented 483 manatees deaths from Jan. 1 to Oct. 23. Last year, during the same time period, the FWC recorded 422 deaths. This year’s numbers also exceeds the five-year average of 475 deaths annually.

“Of all the carcasses in which a cause of death was determined, watercraft-related mortality was as significant as in previous years, which underscores boat collisions remain one of the major threats to the manatee population over the long-term,” FWC spokeswoman Michelle Kerr said Thursday.

Boating has been an even more popular activity in Florida during 2020, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down a lot of other outdoor and indoor activities for months.

So far in 2020, 68 manatees have died from the injuries sustained from boats and other watercraft. On average, 20% of the reported manatee deaths result from boating injuries.

Of the 14 reported manatee deaths in Charlotte County waters, two died of boat injuries. In Sarasota County, one of the six manatee deaths was from boat injuries. Of the 23 manatee deaths reported in Lee County, five were results of boat injuries.

Besides boat collisions, manatees can die from extreme cold weather, which hasn’t been a problem in recent years, or from red tide. The worst year for that was 2018, when 718 manatees died, a number that included those that were killed by the algae blooms that plagued Southwest Florida and the Gulf Coast that year.

Due to COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns and precautions, 162 manatee deaths were verified but not recovered and transported for necropsies at the FWC pathobiology laboratory in St. Petersburg.

“The number of carcasses that were documented but not fully necropsied was higher than usual,” Kerr said.

Winter cold fronts trigger manatees to head to warm-water havens, where they can be more easily spotted by nature lovers and wildlife officers. In January and February, researchers counted 5,733 manatees swimming in Florida waters. Of those, 3,339 were in West Coast waters.

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