FORT MYERS — An environmental non-profit says Florida may be facing a manatee extinction crisis.
The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, has been tracking more than 300 manatee deaths this year alone, and for the majority of them, the cause of death wasn’t even recorded.
PEER calls the manatee deaths in just the first month of 2021 “unprecedented”, and they’re not the only ones concerned.
We also spoke with a man who does manatee tours in the Fort Myers area who says this should be a concern for anyone involved with Florida tourism.
"Millions of people come to Florida every year with the hopes of seeing a manatee. They bring in a great deal of tourism dollars," said Tim Martell, the owner of Seaway Outfitters.
Martell has helped many of those people turn that hope into a reality.
"People see a manatee, they are just set back and put into a state of awe. They are such large, amazing, powerful animals," said Martell.
But Tim Whitehouse, the Executive Director at PEER, said those animals may be more in danger than ever.
"Florida may be moving into a manatee extinction crisis," said Whitehouse.
Whitehouse said the more than 300 manatees that have been killed in 2021 alone is more than half the manatees that were killed all of last year. He also said, for the majority of them, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission doesn’t know why they died, because the agency didn’t perform a necropsy.
"Without necropsies, the state will have less data, and they’ll have more difficulty responding to the causes of death," said Whitehouse.
FWC data shows, on a usual year, about 65 manatees die without a necropsy being performed, but last year, that jumped to 212, and in the first two months of this year, it’s over 200 again.
"We need to put the resources toward saving these iconic mammals, because they have value in and of themselves," said Whitehouse.
Martell agrees, and not just because his business relies on manatees.
"They’re worth keeping around. They’re an animal that is certainly worth saving," said Martell.
We did reach out to the FWC. It couldn’t tell us why more manatees are dying without having a necropsy done, but the agency did say it’s seeing a high number of manatee deaths this year along Florida’s Atlantic coast.