Red tide algae is killing manatees in Florida. The toxic algae is breaking out this year and is thought responsible for the deaths of nearly 150 manatees.
Red tide algae can be toxic when consumed by manatees, as it causes them to become paralyzed. The paralyzed manatees eventually drown as they cannot return to the surface for air. Florida wildlife officials are especially concerned that a large number of manatees have died this year.
The previous record for manatee deaths from the toxic algae was 151 in 1996. As reported by NBC News, a record number of endangered manatees may die this year. Although the 70 mile long algae bloom is expected to dissipate, scientists worry that the toxins, absorbed by sea grass, may continue killing manatees for several months.
Manatees, also called sea cows, are divided into three species and are distantly related to the elephant. It is thought that sailors may have mistaken the creatures as being half-human half-fish, which could have contributed to mermaid legends.
As manatees do not tolerate cold water, they travel to Florida during the winter months. As discussed at dolphins.org, full grown manatees can reach lengths of 10 feet. Although manatees are large, they are known for their gentle and friendly nature.
Due to their gentle nature, the manatees have become endangered by humans. As the manatee population continues to diminish the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act protect them from hunting, harassment, and capture. Manatees that gather in populated areas are most vulnerable to injury from boaters. It is estimated that more manatees are killed by boat propellers than any other cause.
Unfortunately manatees are facing another danger this year as red tide algae blooms have invaded their habitat. Workers from the Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, have rescued eleven of the ailing manatees and taken them to the zoo for treatment.
Zoo employees devote 24 hours per day to treating the manatees. The workers stay in the tanks with the manatees, holding their heads above water so they can breathe. When the manatees recover and are able to swim they will be released back into their natural habitat.
Although the red tide algae is killing manatees in Florida, their population continues to be estimated around 4,500.
[Image via fotopedia]