Manatees -- those lovable dopey floaters bobbing in the waters around South Florida -- had a really bad 2013. For the first time since scientists began tallying the number of the animals killed in the wild, the body count broke the 800 mark.
Yeah, read that line one more time so it can sink in: 813 manatees were killed in 2013 -- and technically, we're not even done with the year yet, so a few more might be notched into the record before we blow out the candles for 2013 next week.
For a little perspective, that number represents 16 percent of the total manatee population, estimated at 5,000. The 2013 tally also represents a doubling in last year's manatee deaths. In 2012, 390 manatees were reportedly killed. The year before that, 450 deaths were recorded. And in 2010, Florida saw the then-record-setting year -- 765 manatee deaths.
The 2010 number was largely attributed to a cold spell that hit the population hard. In 2013, we don't exactly have easy answers about why so many manatees went belly-up. Early in the year, a wave of Red Tide algae may have knocked out 276 manatees, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Also, a mysterious disease is responsible for the deaths of 117 manatees in the Indian River Lagoon since July of last year. Otherwise, scientists are shrugging their shoulders about why exactly so many sea cows are not making it.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's stats, 71 of the 2013 deaths were from watercraft, 34 from cold stress, 199 from natural causes. But the overwhelming number of dead manatees -- 272 -- died due to undetermined factors.
The saddest part of the whole thing? (Well, as if manatees' dying isn't enough already to spring tears from your eyes, you cold-hearted bastard.) One hundred and 70 of 2013 dead crop were females of breeding age, spelling possible disaster for the species in the future. So please refrain from doing anything stupid when you see the lovable dopes out in the world -- don't touch 'em, snap a selfie with 'em, pull your boat in close, or feed them.
These guys, most likely, are better off without us getting in the way.
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.