The year 2020 proved a deadlier year for Florida’s manatees.
The final numbers aren’t completely tallied, but by Christmas Day, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 619 manatee deaths for 2020. In 2019, for the entire year, the Wildlife Commission reported 606 deaths.
State officials expect to finish compiling and completing next week its 2020 summary of manatee deaths. The mortality summary will be posted on myfwc.com.
The deadliest year for manatees was 2018 when 824 manatees died. The toxic red tide algae caused a significant number of those deaths.
Due the pandemic, Wildlife officers limited their responses to live manatees in distress from April to May in 2020. The state reported 206 dead manatee that weren’t examined to determine the cause of death. In 2019, only 129 manatees of 606 manatees weren’t examined.
“Due to the Florida’s stay-at-home order and safety precautions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of carcasses that was documented but not fully necropsied was higher than usual,” FWC spokeswoman Michelle Kerr said in an email to The Daily Sun Tuesday.
In 2020, by Christmas, the state reported 90 manatees died due to watercraft injuries. For 2019, Florida set the entire year’s watercraft mortality at 136. But those numbers for 2020 may not be telling the full story.
“Less carcasses are necropsied than usual still because we continue to work under COVID-19 protocols,” Kerr said. (A necropsy is an a post-mortem examination of an animal to determine the cause of death, similar to an autopsy for humans.)
“But looking at carcasses with known causes of death, watercraft-related injuries are the main cause of mortality (about two-thirds of known causes this summer and fall).”
For both years, Brevard County on Florida’s East Coast and Lee County on the West Coast proved to be especially deadly waters for manatees and watercraft. In the last two years, 30 manatees in Brevard County died from watercraft, and 34 in Lee County died of wounds inflicted by boats and other watercraft.
And in the last two years, six manatees in Charlotte County and three in Sarasota County died from watercraft injuries.
More manatees died from flood gate/canal lock and “other” human causes — 24 — in 2020, versus 14 dead in 2019.
Last year wasn’t a particularly healthy year for juvenile manatees. In 2020 the state reported 107 manatees died of perinatal causes. The previous year, 71 immature manatees died of perinatal causes.
And in both years, Brevard County accounted for 47 of those deaths, while Lee County saw the second-most deaths due to perinatal causes, 27.
Other reported causes of manatee deaths include:
• 52 deaths from cold stress in 2020; 64 in 2019.
• 50 deaths from natural causes in 2020; 79 in 2019.
• 90 deaths for undetermined causes in 2020; 113 in 2019.
“The number of mortalities in 2020 is above the recent five-year average. This higher than average trend was set in the winter of 2019-2020,” Kerr said.