TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has determined watercraft-related injuries are the leading cause of death of manatees so far in 2019.
According to FWC, current watercraft-related deaths stand at 86 halfway through the year. The average in a semiannual period is 53.
Twelve manatees have died in Hillsborough County. According to the FWC, four of those were watercraft related.
Across the Tampa Bay area, 12 manatees have been killed by watercraft.
It’s a trend that veterinarians in ZooTampa know all too well.
The zoo is currently rehabilitating six manatees. All were injured by boat strikes.
“A couple things we’ll see is outward wounds, but also a lot of the damage is internal. So they’ll have collapsed lungs, bleeding internally, so there’s a number of things that boat strikes can do that are harmful to manatees,” said staff veterinarian Dr. Lauren Smith.
Dr. Smith says these kinds of injuries are completely preventable and there are things boaters can do to make sure Florida’s gentle giants are safe.
“Wearing polarized glasses is very helpful. Manatees are very hard to identify in the water at times and so that may be helpful. Obeying manatee speed zones is imperative,” she said.
“And it would also be a good idea if you have somebody on your boat that can keep a lookout on the driver to maybe give the driver a heads up if there’s a manatee in the way.”
As of June 21, 300 manatees have died in Florida. Last year saw a total of 824 deaths.
To report an injured or distressed manatee, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC.