Florida Manatee Population Facing Record Mortality Rate

First published by NBC2 News, December 8, 2010

FORT MYERS: Manatee Park is home to hundreds of manatees this time of year when water temperatures drop. But for them, getting to the park is a matter of life or death.

Statistics released Wednesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show that there have been almost 700 deaths statewide in 2010 – a number that doubles the average since 2005.

And the cold weather is making it worse.

"The past few nights of temperatures are dropping the water temperatures very drastically," said Captain Denis Grealish with FWC.

FWC says 244 manatee deaths have come from cold weather; that's 111 more than the past five years combined.

"Yeah, that is disturbing, so we need more warm places like this," said Manatee Park visitor Gus Braat.

"I feel like that's the way that nature works," said another park visitor Marvin Scripter.

There is a silver lining in the latest statistics. Boating accidents involving manatees is down from the previous two years. There were only 76 deaths by watercraft in 2010.

FWC is asking boaters to follow speed restrictions to keep that number down. This time of year, they say it's all too important for the sea cows to get to warmer water.

Ryan Heninger