Wildlife officials in Florida are facing an especially stiff challenge this year in saving the state’s manatee population from a poisonous brand of algae that has spread around the coast.
CBS News reported on Friday that 207 manatees have died this year after being infected by toxins released by “red tide” algae. The poisonous materials found in the algae attach themselves to the manatees’ food, and can paralyze manatees after digestion, causing them to drown.
“When you do find them it’s almost too late,” said Virginia Edmonds, director of a manatee critical care facility at Lowery Park Zoo in Tampa. “They’re out there struggling. They’re going to end up drowning.”
While this strain of algae blooms every year, researchers said this year’s death toll has been exacerbated by other factors.
” I think just the way the winds are blowing — it’s getting on sea grass beds,” marine science teacher Mike Parsons told NPR. “It hasn’t been so cold that the manatees are going upriver, things like that, so they are still out feeding.”
Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this rash of red tide-related deaths might hamper plans to upgrade the local manatee population from its status as an endangered species to threatened.
Watch CBS News’ report on the fatal outbreak affecting the manatees, which aired March 29, 2013, below.