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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        Vicki M. Boatwright or

February 6, 1997                             Diana M. Hawkins


The Florida Manatee is mounting a valiant fight back from the brink of extinction following 1996's disastrous die-off, but avoidable, human-related deaths still haunt this gentle aquatic mammal.

This month, a survey conducted by the Florida Marine Research Institute counted 2,639 manatees, the highest count of the species since statewide surveys began in 1991. Regrettably, however, 1996 was also a record year for manatee mortalities. Four hundred and sixteen manatees died in the United States last year.

One hundred and fifty-one of these deaths were caused by a naturally occurring toxin produced by the red tide organism, Gymnodinium breve. While that event contributed significantly to the total number of deaths recorded, 1996 was also the worst year on record for human-related mortalities. Sixty manatees were struck and killed by watercraft, ten died in water control structures and one drowned in a stormwater pipe.

Despite this bad news, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Regional Director, Noreen K. Clough, reported that the results of 1997's first survey brought encouraging data from Florida's Gulf coast. In spite of the red tide organism that occurred there last year, Clough said, the latest Gulf coast count of 1,329 was a record for the Region.

Continuing recovery activities undertaken by the Service, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection and other private conservation organizations seek to protect manatee habitats and reduce human-related mortality. Clough said that efforts are ongoing to reduce watercraft-related deaths by establishing manatee protection zones; to cut water control structure-related deaths through the use of pressure sensitive devices; and to decrease structure-related drownings by installing grates.


Release #97-17

1997 News Releases

Go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Home Page