For such a gentle creature, the Florida Manatee actually has a tough life. I mean, they just sort of bob and float around and eat grass all day, which is pretty nice, but with Manatee Awareness Month starting in November, it's a good time to look at the number of deadly threats facing this endangered species.
When they aren't getting hit by boats, which is their number one cause of death, they suffer from crazy guys jumping on their backs or ladies trying to take them for a joy ride. Unusually cold weather can kill off hundreds, as well, as it did in the winter of 2010. Sadly, 2013 has been the deadliest year on record for manatees, due in part to a toxic red algae bloom, which can poison the manatees and other wildlife, causing paralyses and eventual drowning.In April of this year, 241 manatees had been reported killed due to the algae. Now the number of dead manatees has risen to 769 so far this year, which is a record high.
The red algae bloom is not only deadly to manatees. The New York Times reports that birds, dolphins and other animals can be killed by consuming the poison, but humans are also at risk:
Residents and tourists regularly have respiratory problems after inhaling brevetoxins while strolling on beaches near red tides. People can also become ill after eating oysters and clams that have absorbed the toxin.
Experts are uncertain why this year’s algae bloom was so lengthy and toxic. Phosphorus runoff from fertilized farms and lawns may have contributed, because algae thrive on a phosphorus diet.
Once again, we're reminded of our interconnectedness with other species and the environment. Because of our current system of unsustainable agriculture that is far too dependent on chemical fertilizers, as well as our quest for artificially green lawns, we're contributing to record deaths in already vulnerable species. It can feel strange to think of how our shopping habits or landscaping choices impact manatees, but this is just an example of how the choices we make as individuals and a society create ripple effects that stretch through the economy and the environment.
For another look at what the manatees face in their struggle for survival, check out this time lapse video of people upsetting resting manatees. It shows, as Jaymi aptly put, the manatees being "loved to death".