Lee County leads state in manatee deaths from boats

A manatee swims east of the W.P. Franklin Lock in the Caloosahatchee on Thursday, February 11, 2016, in Alva.

Lee County led the state in manatee deaths from boat strikes in 2016, while deaths from boats topped 100 in Florida for the first time.

A record 104 manatees died in collisions with boats in 2016, including 19 watercraft-related manatee deaths in Lee County, according to statistics released this week by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The previous record of 97 manatees killed by watercraft was set in 2009.

The average over the previous five years was about 79 manatees killed by boats statewide.

Volusia County's 12 deaths was second. Brevard and Lee counties typically have among the highest manatee death tolls from boats and other causes because of the large manatee populations there.

So based on carcasses state wildlife biologists examined in 2016, one in every five manatee deaths in 2016 was caused by a boat collision. That's a typical proportion of the overall annual manatee deaths in Florida.

An even larger death toll last year, 113 manatees, was sea cows that died within a year of being born.

Statewide, Florida wildlife biologists reported 520 manatee deaths from all causes in 2016, compared with a 5-year average is 490 deaths. In Lee, 83 manatees died, according to the FWC report.

Lee County has been No. 1 in boat-related manatee deaths in nine of the past 10 years. Brevard County led the state with 13 in 2010. Collier County posted six boat-related manatee deaths in 2016, ranking sixth in Florida.

Overall, Lee County ranked second in manatee deaths with 83; Collier County ranked third with 31 manatee deaths, according to the data.

Florida boating advocate Jim Kalvin said wildlife monitors should do more to figure out whether poor water quality from red tide, runoff and Lake Okeechobee discharges down the Caloosahatchee River leads to sickened manatees that end up getting hit by boats.

“I think Lee County will always lead the state when we have the water issues we're dealing with,” said Kalvin, president of Standing Watch. “I don’t think anything in that river is healthy.”

He also said increasing manatee numbers leads to more manatee deaths, boat strikes included.

In December, when the boat-related death total broke the previous record, set in 2009, Save the Manatee Club science director Katie Tripp wrote an open letter to Florida's boaters, urging cooperation in finding ways to stop the death toll.

"There must be a way for Floridians to enjoy boating and recreating on our waterways without hurting or killing manatees, and Florida’s boaters may well know the answer," Tripp wrote. "No one spends more time on Florida's waters or better understands the factors that lead to manatee strikes."

A record 830 Florida manatees died in 2013. Lee County ranked first in manatee deaths with 276 that year, 15 of those watercraft-related deaths. Red tide was suspected as the cause of the large number of deaths.

276 manatees died in Lee County waters in 2013

Through Jan. 20 of this year,  34 manatees have died in Florida, compared with a 5-year average of 27.

Of this year's deaths, nine have been in Lee. None so far have been by watercraft. One manatee had died in Collier County.

This year's manatee deaths statewide include three watercraft-related, 12 from unknown causes, 6 from cold stress and the rest from other causes.

Federal officials early last year proposed reclassifying manatees from "endangered" to the less-serious status of "threatened" within about a year.

Feds say manatee no longer endangered

Last year's high manatee death toll comes in the wake of a record count of the endangered mammal's population in Florida. Spotters counted 6,250 manatees in Florida this winter, 187 more than the previous winter count and the most found since the state began the yearly surveys in 1991.

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or Follow him on Twitter@JWayEnviro and at

2016 Manatee deaths

Lee County

19 - Watercraft

1- Other human cause

11- Perinatal

2- Cold stress

18 - Natural

24 - Undetermined

8- Unrecovered

80 - Total

Collier County

6 - Watercraft

2 - Perinatal

1 - Cold stress

11 - Natural

8 - Undetermined

3 - unrecovered

Total - 31