Manatee deaths spike due to red tide

Red tide blamed for 174 manatee deaths

FLORIDA - Within the past two months, 174 manatees have died in Florida's waters. The casualties appeared to be tied to red tide, which is currently concentrated on the west coast near Naples and Fort Myers.

"What we think is happening is that the manatees are consuming the grass, the sea grass, and the sea grass is contaminated with the red tide, therefore causing the manatees to go into seizures and convulsions, and ultimately dying," said George Pino with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Red tide is phenomenon that is not completely understood by scientists.

"It could be man-made issues that are happening to the environment, or it could be nature just turning on itself," said Pino.

After a warm winter with more manatees congregating together in warm water spots, the red tide plumes, expected annually, just are not dispersing quickly enough and the toxic algae is destroying the endangered sea cows.

So far, rescue crews have been able to save 12 manatees with symptoms.

"Even though there are no confirmed reports of red tide or dead manatees here in South Florida, it's still always a possibility, especially considering that the peak months are upon us right now, in March as well as April."

If you see one of these gentle giants in danger, be aware of red tide toxicity symptoms: twitching, seizures, lack of coordination, and difficulty with breathing.

Contact the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for immediate help with an injured manatee.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.