WAKULLA SPRINGS, Fla. -- Last year, Florida boat operators killed more manatees than ever before—stats from the state show.
The mortality data, recently finalized by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, lists 123 of the mammals as killed by watercraft in 2018 . Officials also said 2019 is on pace to exceed that.
“If you’re looking at the first half of the year, they’re at an unprecedented number as well,” Martine de Wit said, a veterinarian with the commission. “There seems to be a trend that they are going up.”
The cause, likely more people in Florida and more boats in the water. But, some good news, a higher manatee population overall might also be to blame.
The once endangered creatures are now considered “threatened,” an improvement. The latest Florida population estimate was at least 7,500 in 2016 — up 32% from 2012.
“It’s one of the reasons the manatee is not considered endangered anymore,” de Wit said. “There are more manatees out there than there were 30 years ago.”
The sea cow, as they’re also known, is a rare treat for tourists in Wakulla Springs, a state park with a narrow strip of river in the Florida’s panhandle.
“It is tragic,” said Christy Haynes, who was visiting from another part of the state. “There are too many boats. They’re running over [them]— then you see the manatees with cuts all down them. Hopefully the state will get involved in that.”
Wildlife officials said they will be turning over their data to authorities to help identify trouble spots. Law enforcement will then cite those boat operators not following rules on the water.