U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Southeast Region News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                   Vicki M. Boatwright or

March 28, 1996                          Diana M. Hawkins 404-679-7293



A so-far-unidentified malady is striking down record numbers of Florida's endangered manatees. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection reports that since March 5, there have been 86 manatee carcasses recovered in Southwest Florida waterways.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough said she is greatly disturbed by these manatee losses, but applauds the Florida DEP for its untiring efforts to diagnose the problem. She said that tests performed on samples taken from the dead manatees have found that evidence of lung lesions and bacterial pneumonia seem to be the only conditions common to many of the dead mammals. Clough noted that these symptoms are not necessarily fatal, so biologists are therefore unable to determine what is actually killing the animals.

The Service's Manatee Recovery Coordinator, Robert Turner, called the manatee deaths "the most serious mortality event on record." He said that a February 1996 survey revealed that the minimum U.S. manatee population numbered 2,639 and noted that 86 deaths represented a significant loss of these endangered marine mammals.

"Whether current losses will have a lasting effect on the manatee population depends both on how many more animals die as a result of this present phenomenon and on how successful we are at reducing human-related mortality now and in the future," Turner said. "Any time you have a catastrophic mortality event such as this," he said, "it demonstrates how vulnerable the manatee population is and how important it is for us to reduce human-caused deaths because they are the only cause over which we have some control."

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's modern marine mammal pathobiology laboratory in St. Petersburg, FL, is where State biologists are presently conducting tests to find a cause of the manatee deaths. "Having this state-of-the-art necropsy facility in place and operating has enabled the DEP to quickly respond to this catastrophic event and will help to determine what is contributing to the deaths of this alarming number of animals in Southwest Florida," Clough said, noting that the facility was constructed in 1991 with the help of $175,000 seed money provided by grant-in-aid funds from the Fish and Wildlife Service.

X X X Release #96-17

1996 News Releases

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