A rare sighting of an endangered animal ended in tragedy when a manatee that visited Rhode Island was found dead offshore in early October, the Associated Press reports.
Manatees, also called sea cows, are large marine mammals usually found in more tropical waters near Florida, the Caribbean, the Amazon, and the coast of Africa, as National Geographic explains. They’re gentle giants that graze on seagrass.
Because they’re adapted to warm water, manatees usually don’t venture north. However, AP News reports that one was spotted off the shore of Rhode Island in early September. It was the first seen there since 2010 and one of only six known to visit New England in the past 18 years.
The unusual visit might have been an event to celebrate, but the manatee was found dead on Oct. 6 between Prudence Island and Hog Island, AP News reveals.
Sarah Callan, manager of the animal rescue program at Mystic Aquarium, told AP News that the animal was dead too long for the cause of death to be determined. However, she speculated that it might have been killed by cold stress in Rhode Island’s fall weather.
“We are all so saddened,” Callan told AP News.
Why is this manatee death significant?
Manatees were removed from the endangered species list in 2017, but their population is still vulnerable. Damage to their habitats and mass die-offs continue to threaten the species.
Seagrass and manatees rely on each other to thrive — and since the seagrass helps keep the sea floor from eroding, this relationship between the species is key to a healthy ocean ecosystem. That’s why the decline of the manatee population is so alarming. Every manatee death brings the species closer to an irreversible tipping point.
What’s being done to protect manatees?
Conservation efforts by organizations like Sea & Shoreline have made a big difference by cleaning up excessive algae from manatee habitats. Miami-Dade County is also working to replace septic tanks that pollute coastal waters.
Individuals can help by donating to or volunteering with manatee conservation organizations.
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