Dead Baby Manatee found in Miami Waterway

In the winters, Ilaria Pezzatini liked to sit on the dock behind her Coral Gables home and watch the collections of chubby, slow-moving manatees swim by. She was almost certain to spot at least one if she waited long enough.

But lately, the only manatees Pezzatini can remember seeing along the eight-mile-long waterway have been dead. Just a year ago, New Times spoke to Pezzatini after she and her father found the body of a young manatee in the waterway behind their home.

“In the past year, I haven’t really seen any live manatees swim past,” she says.

Her latest observation came last Saturday morning when she saw a small, lifeless manatee hovering belly up.

It is unclear how exactly this manatee died. When Pezzatini and other neighbors called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), state researchers came out to remove the body and perform an autopsy.

Pezzatini says the baby appeared to be much smaller than the first one she found ⁠- only about four feet long and strikingly thin. FWC researchers told her it had markings indicating that it was recently born.

“It was so small,” Pezzatini recalls. “It is possible that it is stillborn.”

After finding the dead manatee on Saturday, Pezzatini posted pictures of his floating corpse on Nextdoor with the caption: “What a disaster. We will drive this species to extinction.”

In fact, manatees were one of the 78 original species listed as “endangered” under the Federal Endangered Species Act, passed in the 1970s. Although their status was downgraded from “endangered” to “endangered” in 2017, Pezzatini’s gruesome discovery comes on the heels of Florida’s deadliest year for manatees, when the death toll darkened 1,000.

The latest statistics prompt scientists and officials to reconsider the danger to the manatee: Of the 1,001 deaths recorded last year, 103 were “watercraft-related”, seven involved manatees were crushed or drowned in locks or canal locks, and a further seven were killed for human-related reasons such as poaching or entanglement of ropes. An unprecedented number of manatees are thought to have died of starvation, particularly on the east coast of Florida, where there has been a drastic decline in the vegetarian manatee’s main food source: seagrass.

More than half of the dead manatees were either not autopsied or their cause of death has not yet been determined. Last year, when Pezzatini called the FWC’s hotline to report the dead manatee she found behind her home, she was told the agency could not perform an autopsy on it because it was too decomposed.

While many people responded to Pezzatini’s Nextdoor post, asking how they could help the fighting species, others came up with comments that made her “speechless,” including a commentator who wished the manatees would disappear, so they “finally” could speed up “in their boats and jet skis.

“People are just so selfish and so ignorant sometimes,” Pezzatini says. “But if we do not take care of our environment, if we continue to lose species and animals and sources of food, we ourselves will end up disappearing from our land.”

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