According to the most current data from 2023, the Florida manatee population numbers around 8,800, but hundreds of them die off of Florida’s coasts every year with around another hundred ending up at rescues like Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership.
Despite a gradual decrease in annual manatee mortality after what the Marine Mammal Commission reports to be around 1,100 deaths in 2021, the Florida manatee remains a threatened species. While their mortality rate has been steadily increasing, as with their birth rate, since 2008, as of 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) downlisted the Florida manatee from an endangered species to a threatened one.
Some notable threats to manatees include habitat loss and people. The former is attributed to the unusually high death rate in 2021. More specifically, the FWS believes that many of the manatees starved to death that year due to a loss of seagrass beds from lower water quality along the shoreline. The latter is one of the most common causes of manatee deaths.
As the FWS notes in their 2023 Stock Assessment Report regarding Florida manatees, between 2014-2018, around 22% of manatee deaths can be directly attributed to incidents like watercraft accidents, getting trapped or crushed by man-made structures, and getting entangled in nets and lines. For comparison, between that five year span, 20% died during or shortly after birth, 7% died of cold stress, 18% died of natural causes, and 33% died of other causes.
Ironically, although people are a leading cause of manatee mortality, we also happen to be their biggest supporter. Even on a local level with organizations like Save the Manatee Club, people are spreading awareness and establishing ways for concerned citizens to get involved in manatees preservation.
To contribute, Save the Manatee Club details a wide variety of options including volunteer opportunities across the state, considering monetary donations to manatee rescue organizations, and reporting distressed manatee sightings to the FWS at 1-888-404-3922, healthy manatee sightings to Save the Manatee Club, and manatee sightings outside of Florida to the listed authority for that state.
The real question is how long Florida manatees have to teeter on the line between threatened and endangered. Florida manatees could be just one natural disaster away from a devastating loss they can’t recover from.
Article by Ema Tibbetts