So why is red tide killing our manatees?

NBC News is wondering what’s behind the massive blooms of marine microorganisms that are killing so many manatees:

Florida wildlife officials report that 149 of the gentle giants have been killed by red tide this year in just two and a half months, making it almost certain that the state will pass the record of 151, set in 1996.

The bloom of algae this year covers a 70-mile stretch of the west coast of Florida, roughly from Sarasota to Fort Myers. That makes it particularly dangerous for the blimp-shaped, endangered mammals because they congregate in the warm water there for winter.

The algae contain a toxin that can stop the breathing of manatees when they eat it, and particles seep into sea grass, which manatees also eat. So the killing will probably continue for two months after the red tide dissipates.

“They’re basically paralyzed, and they’re comatose,” Virginia Edmonds, animal care manager of Florida mammals for the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, told the Tampa Bay Times. “They could drown in 2 inches of water.”

For the sea cow, it’s practically biblical.

nb: Red tide isn’t actually caused by algae as most people understand the term. It’s dinoflagellates that do it. Though some of them photosynthesize, dinoflagellates also move themselves around with whip-like tails (flagellae) and eat other tiny things.

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