Manatee deaths from watercraft strikes have doubled in the past five years. But that’s not the only threat they face.

manatee

Florida manatees had another deadly year in 2019.

An estimated 531 manatees died in Florida waters in the past 12 months. That’s a significant decrease from the number of deaths in 2018, when 824 manatees died, but it still represents a nearly 10% loss to their population in the state.

Some manatees die from natural causes each year, but most of this year’s mortalities were caused by a particularly human element:

Boats.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which keeps track of manatee mortality, at least 136 manatees died last year after being struck by speeding watercraft. That’s nearly two times the number of manatees killed by boats in 2014. The number of boat strikes started to climb in 2016 — the same year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed downlisting the species’ conservation status from “endangered” to the lesser category of “threatened.”

As a result of this and other threats, manatee populations appear to be on the decline again. The most recent annual synoptic survey, conducted at the beginning of 2019, found 5,733 manatees in Florida waters — down from 6,620 just two years earlier. (Florida uses these surveys to provide a general view of manatee populations and but does not use them to assess long-term trends.)

What else killed manatees this past year? Watch our video below to learn more.

John R. Platt

is the editor of The Revelator. An award-winning environmental journalist, his work has appeared in Scientific American, Audubon, Motherboard, and numerous other magazines and publications. His “Extinction Countdown” column has run continuously since 2004 and has covered news and science related to more than 1,000 endangered species. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. John lives on the outskirts of Portland, Ore., where he finds himself surrounded by animals and cartoonists.

Dipika Kadaba  

is an ecologist who uses data visualization and design to communicate environmental issues in her role as The Revelator's visual storyteller. Her interdisciplinary work originates in her background in environmental health research as a veterinarian, a graduate degree in conservation science, and a lifetime spent creating webcomics and animations for fun.