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January 11, 2008

DNR investigates Georgetown manatee death

An adult male manatee was found dead just north of Georgetown on Monday, December 10th, 2007 by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources who brought the animal to the South Carolina Aquarium for a necropsy (animal form of autopsy). No absolute cause of the mortality could be found and there was no evidence of a recent traumatic event like a boat strike to explain the death. 

Recent evidence suggests that some manatees use pockets of warm water (refugia) created by various industries as resting places during their migration. Some animals may linger too long in these warm water pockets, and when they finally resume their migration, they enter cold water (less than 60 F) and become stunned. Their digestive and immune systems cannot handle the extreme temperatures and the animals die from the shock to their system. In South Carolina, manatees typically leave our coastline in the late summer and early fall. Given the abnormal time of year and the temperature of the water, this cold-stun scenario may explain the passing of this gentle animal.

Fishing line was found within the intestines although it appeared to have no immediate influence on the animal’s mortality as assessed by the necropsy team. The fishing line’s presence does highlight the need to be aware that wildlife often consumes plastics and trash that can cause serious disease.

Manatees are the only marine mammal herbivore in North America. They feed on sea grasses in warm waters along the Atlantic Coast. They can migrate as far north as New England during the summers when water temperatures range above 70 F. With the onset of fall, the water temperatures drop, and manatees migrate back to the warmer waters of Florida and the Caribbean.

A multi agency cooperative effort conducted the examination with experts from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR), National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the South Carolina Aquarium each lending their unique expertise.

DNR protects and manages South Carolina’s natural resources by making wise and balanced decisions for the benefit of the state’s natural resources and its people.

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