Animals

More manatees are being killed by boats than ever

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Florida manatees (Trichechus manatees latirostris) are a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Their population is dangerously low and is mainly in danger from habitat loss and being struck by boats.

Image: Shutterstock/Ethan Daniels

As of July 22 this year, 71 manatees had been killed by by boat strikes compared to 58 by mid-July in 2009. That’s an increase of 13, which might not seem like a lot, but it is. Conservationists in Florida seem to disagree on the cause for this sudden increase of manatee deaths, so what’s really going on?

One of the popular explanations is that higher temperatures and lower fuel prices combine to create a favorable atmosphere for more frequent boating. With good weather and cheaper prices, boaters have found themselves out on the water more, providing more chances for manatees to get hit. While this seems like a logical explanation, not all conservationists agree.

Others say that pollution has damaged the manatees’ main feeding habitats, which has forced them to venture into waters they normally wouldn’t to look for food. Since they’re swimming in new places, boaters don’t think to look for them, so they get hit without warning. When boats are in more shallow water, they have to travel at a slower pace which puts the motor lower in the water, in perfect proximity to hit nearby manatees. Some conservationists also credit to the migration of these animals to their growing population and over-foraging of their food sources.

However, an argument against the growing population of manatees says that manatees reproduce at such a slow rate, a sudden increase is nearly impossible. Manatees mate and reproduce one calf every 3-5 years.

Manatees have been on the endangered species list for some time, but in the latest survey (February 2016) it was found that there are about 6,250 manatees off the Florida coast. With this number, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has requested changing their status to threatened.

It’s difficult to imagine Florida without manatees, but it doesn’t ever have to reach that point because you can help. Start by joining the efforts to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from down listing manatees from endangered to threatened. Taking the attention away from this issue will do anything but help them. If you live in Florida, purchase a “save the manatees” license plate. The proceeds from your purchase will go to manatee and environmental research, protection and education programs. Manatees are a beautiful, graceful creature and they need our help.

Featured Image: Shutterstock/Ethan Daniels

Lauren is a part-time editorial and graphic contributor at 301 Digital Media who has a strange obsession with cats and a love for Drake that will never be reciprocated. Follow her on Instagram: @lpetermeyer