A dead manatee found in Fisherman’s Channel on Friday morning sparked rumors that this weekend’s boat show was to blame, but experts say that’s probably not the case.
The adult male manatee was found early Friday in Fisherman’s Channel, closer to Norris Cut, between Fisher Island and Virginia Key. The area is marked on a map issued by DERM as an area to avoid because it’s too shallow. Boat show spokesperson Kelly Penton said this area is outside of boat show territory, including water taxi routes.
The seacow had three slashes on his right side and four on his right, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation spokesman Lorenzo Veloz.
He likely died on impact with the boat. Veloz said the FWC is pretty sure the manatee didn’t float too far from where he was killed because the current is weak in that area.
“It doesn’t really go anywhere but in circles,” Veloz said.
The manatee’s wounds are consistent with a boat with dual propellers, which Veloz said tend to be on boats 21 feet or longer. There were no witnesses to the manatee’s death, so “there’s no real way to know who did it,” Veloz said.
But if the culprit were discovered, he or she would be subject to the federal penalty for killing a manatee — a fine of $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 60 days.
According to the FWC website, “Conviction for violating federal protection laws is punishable by fines up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison.”
There isn’t a speed limit for boats in this channel, Veloz said, and it’s off the regularly trafficked paths heading to this weekend’s International Boat Show on Virginia Key.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay said this manatee’s death means “our worst fears have come true.” Her village has been vocal about its displeasure with the boat show’s new location, culminating in a lawsuit against the city of Miami.
“We have been sounding the alarm bells for months about the environmental risks of having the boat show at Virginia Key’s marine basin, only to fall on deaf ears. From round-the-clock water taxis to private boats conducting sea trials and high speed demonstrations, it has been a virtual free-for-all in one of our region’s most sensitive ecosystems. This is what happens when you put profits over the environment and it has to stop — both by stricter monitoring of our waterways this weekend and by relocating the boat show next year,” Lindsay said in a statement.
Cathy Rick-Joule, Director of the Miami International Boat Show, said in a statement: “We understand that a manatee was found dead in Fisherman’s Channel. This channel is outside the boat show footprint and is a legal channel used by many boaters. It is unfortunate that Key Biscayne’s Mayor is incorrectly using the death of a manatee to further her political agenda.”
Manatee areas in South Florida and beyond are traditionally home to low speed “Manatee protection zones,” which have remained in place all over the state even though the growth in sea cow population has downgraded them from the endangered species list to the “threatened” list.
When the call came in Friday morning, FWC employees arrived and photographed the scene. Then they loaded the bloated sea cow corpse on a boat trailer and hauled it to the FWC manatee group, where investigators will preform a necropsy.
Opening up this manatee with reveal more than the cause of death, Veloz. The creature might have a microchip, a remnant from his participation in a scientific research study. Investigators will comb over the body, looking for signs of bacteria infection, disease, the contents of his stomach, or “anything abnormal,” Veloz said.
This data helps researchers learn more about the formerly imperiled species.
“All this hard work pays off,” Veloz said. “The information it gives us can save hundreds of other manatees.”
Follow Alex Harris on Twitter @harriscalex