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Florida cracks down on speed boaters in manatee country

Above, a dead manatee floats in Florida's Banana River; below, injured manatees get treatment from Miami Seaquarium veterinarians  

June 5, 2000
Web posted at: 5:07 PM EDT (2107 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- Endangered manatees are dying at the rate of one a day, according to the Florida government. To protect the rare sea mammals from lethal collisions with boats, the state has stepped up enforcement of speed restrictions in manatee habitat.

For 24 years, marine patrol officer Dennis Harrah has watched the manatees drift toward extinction.

"I've probably picked up hundreds of dead ones since I've been here," he said.

On the Banana River on Florida's east coast, Harrah tries to slow what could be the inevitable. Only an estimated 2,200 remain alive in Florida waters. New state figures indicate that one manatee died each day during the first four months, the highest death rate ever. One third of the 124 manatees found dead were killed in boat collisions.

"I know years ago, when I first started, from Labor Day until Memorial Day, there was nobody out here. Now it's like a holiday every weekend here," Harrah said.

 VIDEO
VideoVeterinarian Greg Bossart speaks about species discrimination and how human lifestyle affects Florida's manatees.
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The manatee spends the majority of its day engaged in what activity?

A. resting
B. playing
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Some boaters find the manatee speed zones a concocted nuisance.

"All the bleeding heart liberals made it one. There are more manatees now than there have been in 50 years," said one boater.

But staffers at the Miami Seaquarium critical care facility say they are taking care of more injured manatees than ever before. One of their patients is named Gulliver.

"In Gulliver's case, there were three rib fractures and as a result of that, he developed a fairly large abscess," said Seaquarium veterinarian Greg Bossart.

A year of treatments and antibiotics has reduced the size of the abscess. Gulliver's medical expenses have reached nearly $100,000. Other sea cows have bills as high as $500,000.

"It's a lot of money, but we feel that at this point every single manatee is important, so I think it's justified," Bossart said.

Gulliver has a chance to recover fully and return to his natural habitat. Others can never go home, like Venus, whose flipper was severed by a boat, and Phoenix, whose tail was cut off.

Greg Bossart
Miami seaquarium veterinarian Greg Bossart with Gulliver, one of their manatee patients  

As Gulliver rehabilitates, two new manatees have arrived: Bonnie, whose flipper become entangled in fishing line, and Boca, who suffered a collapsed lung after a boat collision.

"This kind of human-related mortality would not be publicly or politically tolerated, if it was a more charismatic species like the dolphin or the killer whale," Bossart said.



RELATED STORIES:
Fire makes Florida Everglades 'look worse than midnight'
April 20, 1999
Some Florida beaches are growing
April 29, 1999
Florida manatee numbers up, survey finds
March 17, 1999

RELATED SITES:
Miami Seaquarium Online
Maps and Satellite images of the Banana River No Motor Zone


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