NAPLES — It’s not a record most people would cheer, but manatees have broken it in 2009.
Manatee deaths in Florida waters in 2009 have surpassed the previous record — and the number killed in boat collisions is nearing a record too.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Friday that 419 dead manatees have been found through Dec. 11.
The previous record of 417 manatee deaths was set in 2006.
Through Dec. 11, 94 manatees had been killed in collisions with boats in 2009, one short of the previous record set in 2002, state figures show.
It’s not just about boats, though, the figures show.
Of the overall deaths, 55 related to cold stress and 114 newborn manatee deaths were both above the five-year average.
The five-year average for cold stress is 24 and the average for newborn deaths is 75, state figures show.
“I think this shows there are still many threats to manatees,” FWC associate research scientist Martine DeWit said.
Manatees are losing warm water habitats, such as natural springs or power plant discharges, where they migrate during cold snaps.
Prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees can cause a range of problems for manatees, including weight loss, dehydration and infections.
Newborn manatees are particularly vulnerable to cold stress, scientists say.
The high number of newborn manatee deaths also could be attributable to disease, a shortage of food or mother manatees that are either killed or otherwise unable to care for their offspring.
DeWit cautioned against linking the high number of manatee deaths to an expanding manatee population.
A 2006 review estimated the manatee adult population at fewer than 2,500, but a 2009 aerial survey counted a record 3,800 sea cows.
The swings in the number of manatee deaths is much bigger from one year to the next to be entirely explained by changes in the overall population, manatee advocates said.
The focus instead should be on what is killing the manatees, Save the Manatee Club Executive Director Pat Rose said.
“It tells you we need to keep doing things and we need to do them better,” he said.
Save the Manatee Club is calling on boaters to help avoid breaking the record for deaths related to boat strikes.
The group said the poor economy is keeping boaters closer to shore to save money on gas, concentrating more boats and manatees in the same waters.
Boaters can help by complying with boat speed zones and promptly reporting collisions with manatees, the group said.
A representative of the Florida boating industry could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.
Connect with Eric Staats at www.naplesnews.com/staff/eric_staats/.