2022 Begins Another Deadly Year for Manatees

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Friday, February 04, 2022
Tim Whitehouse, 202-265-7337

2022 Begins Another Deadly Year for Manatees

High Toll in January Adds Cold Stress as Another Factor Driving Mortality


Washington, DC — The new year is not starting well for Florida’s beleaguered and shrinking population of manatees, according to new figures posted by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  In January 2022, 97 manatees perished, following last year’s all-time record manatee die-off.   

In 2021, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission registered 1,100 manatee deaths, roughly 15% of the entire estimated manatee population of 7,520.  In just the first month of 2022, the FWCC has tallied 97 deaths, a mortality pace that, if projected over 12 months, would produce the third highest mortality year ever recorded.  If this trend holds, just since 2018, Florida will have suffered the three highest manatee mortality years on record. 

“The manatee emergency is not abating, and the remaining population cannot afford to sustain continuing losses at these levels,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, noting that the manatees’ low reproduction rate inhibits quick population rebounds. “Disturbingly, none of the main underlying drivers of manatee mortality is being effectively addressed.” 

The principal dynamics behind the continuing mortality surge include – 

    • Cold Weather. This January, at least three manatees have died from cold stress. It is also expected that winter storms will produce another spike in deaths from cold stress. Manatees are more vulnerable to cold stress deaths from degraded habitats and human impacts such as boat strikes and pollution and starvation. 
    • Watercraft. Boat strikes are the single biggest historic cause of manatee deaths.  The extent of which was masked last year because the state did not perform necropsies on the majority (669 of 1,100) of manatee carcasses.  Yet, a 2020 study found one out of every four adult carcasses bore evidence of 10 or more watercraft strikes. Only 4% of adult manatees were without watercraft-related scars; and,
    • Pollution & Starvation. While pollution-fed toxic red tides and algal blooms kill scores of manatees each year, since 2011, their persistence has resulted in increasingly reduced water clarity and light penetration which, in turn, has led to a dramatic reduction of seagrass, manatees’ primary food. As a result, starvation is now a growing cause of manatee loss and is not likely to diminish.  State and federal agencies have begun an emergency feeding program to stem this crisis. 

Significantly, 59 of the 97 manatee deaths recorded this month have not been necropsied, so the cause of death has yet to be listed. 

“Water pollution in Florida is getting steadily worse due to an almost complete absence of state anti-pollution enforcement,” added Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former state environmental enforcement attorney. “Florida’s manatees will not survive in the wild if we keep treating our freshwaters like open sewers.” 


Look at January 2022 manatee deaths 

Revisit record 2021 manatee mortality 

View study showing 96% of manatees suffer propeller wounds 

Examine Florida’s worsening water pollution and declining enforcement 

Phone: 202-265-7337

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