Dead manatee decomposes along Santa Rosa Sound

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Annie Blanks @DestinLogAnnie

OKALOOSA ISLAND — A dead manatee that washed ashore on the Santa Rosa Sound side of Okaloosa Island has been decomposing at the shoreline for at least two weeks.

The manatee, which is 5 to 6 feet long and at one point probably weighed about 400 pounds, is at the edge of a public waterfront lot amid several homes at the west end of the island near Eglin Air Foce Base’s property. The animal was first reported to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on Feb. 8, according to Shelby Proie, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge.

“A necropsy was performed on Feb. 10 and the remains were buried,” Proie said she was told by an FWC official. “But with the weather and current, it got unburied and swooshed further down the beach.”

Although the Wildlife Refuge commonly rescues stranded marine animals such as dolphins and turtles, the FWC is charged with handling manatees, Proie said.

The Daily News has reached out to FWC for comment.

The manatee is in a decomposed state and covered in maggots and other insects. At least two nearby residents said they were concerned about the smell and the potential environmental hazards the animal might pose.

Proie said she hasn’t seen the animal in person, but after looking at photos of the manatee she couldn’t be sure how it may have died.

“A high percentage of manatee deaths can be attributed to anthropogenic factors, which are manmade causes like boat strikes or habitat degradation,” she said. “They were just recently taken off FWC’s endangered species list, and now they are just threatened, so the rules governing them have changed a little bit.”

According to FWC’s website, manatees were reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” in early 2017 as their population ballooned following years of conservation efforts. There are currently an estimated 6,600 manatees in Florida’s waterways, mostly in saltwater bays, the website said.

Proie said a team from the refuge was standing ready to help the FWC remove the animal from the beach.

“Our No. 1 goal is to retrieve the carcass if possible. … We’re happy to help and work with FWC to see what the next step is,” Proie said. “Even if they can’t do anything, we’re happy to go take care of the carcass and try to cover it for the residents. But we have to wait for (the FWC).”


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