Mortalities Decline From Record, But Remain High

Mortality Chart23

By Cheyenne Canon, Program Project Coordinator

Total manatee mortality has fallen for the second year in a row on the east coast of Florida and in the state overall. In 2023, the number of manatee deaths in Florida (556) was lower than the 5-year average (741) and half of the record number documented just two years ago in 2021 (1,100). However, 556 manatee deaths is still a staggering number, and manatees continue to face many deadly threats.

On Florida’s east coast, 81% of deceased manatees were fully necropsied to continue investigating the Unusual Mortality Event (UME). Only 3% of manatee deaths on the east coast were attributable to starvation. Watercraft injuries and red tide returned as the leading causes of known manatee mortalities state-wide (16% and 20%, respectively). Of a total of 110 red tide-related manatee deaths, 30 can be directly attributed to brevetoxin poisoning due to red tide (listed under the Natural category), while another 20 cases are still waiting to be settled. The rest could not be confirmed, but the carcasses were found within a red tide bloom boundary.

In the past, Lee County consistently had one of the highest watercraft mortalities of all Florida counties. In 2020, that number dropped well below the average, while at the same time the number of mortalities not necropsied skyrocketed, suggesting many watercraft mortalities went unrecorded due to a lack of resources allocated to west coast necropsies during the pandemic and UME. The number of watercraft deaths in Volusia County has varied noticeably from year to year over the last decade—in 2023, there were 14, the most of any Florida county. Brevard County came in second with 11 watercraft mortalities, while Lee County came in third with nine.

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