Die-Off of Manatees, Dolphins Baffles in Florida

Hundreds have died since last July in Indian River Lagoon; pelicans also hard-hit

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Jul 11, 2013 1:29 PM CDT

(Newser) – Hundreds of manatees, dolphins, and pelicans are dying in Florida's Indian River Lagoon, and authorities don't know why. Some of the manatees—111 have perished since last July—have died so quickly, they still have food in their mouths, Wired reports; they appear to have died from shock and drowning. But the dolphins (51 dead since last July) and pelicans (as many as 300 dead) seem to have starved to death. Investigators don't even know if the deaths of the three different species are related or coincidentally happening at the same time.

The manatee die-off has been named an Unusual Mortality Event; dolphins may get the same designation soon. That means the situation requires immediate attention—but investigators have had to go back years to look for answers. A long drought and freezing weather started the lagoon collapsing years ago; officials are trying to halt the collapse, and are also looking for a connection to the deaths. Also a problem: The lagoon, home to more species of marine life than any other continental US estuary, gets drainage from nearby septic tanks, polluted waterways, and fertilizer-tainted storm water. All of the above tend to stagnate there and accumulate. (To balance that out, some happier animal news: A dog that went missing in LA was found in Florida ... 3 years later.)

A Florida manatee sticks its head out of the water at the Tampa Electric Company manatee viewing site in Apollo Beach, Fla.
A Florida manatee sticks its head out of the water at the Tampa Electric Company manatee viewing site in Apollo Beach, Fla.   (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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