Two dead manatees washed up on the beach in Boca Grande with chunks of their bodies chomped and ripped off.
The bodies of the gentle sea cows were found near Gulf Boulevard and Barbarossa Street.
Experts said the marine animals likely were victims of Red Tide, probably killing them and then sharks feasting on the bodies after they died.
Punta Gorda Isles resident Scott Bonton is happy he didn’t stumble upon the manatees’ dead bodies while at the beach.
“It’s bad enough the fish, but with the larger mammals, it’s not good,” Bonton said.
Although, other beachgoers weren’t as fortunate as Bonton.
Denise Boyd from FWC believes the bites came from a predator a few notches higher in the food chain.
“It had evidence of shark either scavenging or predation near the left lower jaw, the peduncle, and the fluke,” Boyd said.
WINK News asked James Douglas from FGCU’s Water School if Red Tide could have killed the manatee.
“Looking at the data from 2018, which was another year after hurricane, that time it was Hurricane Irma,” Douglas said. “There were over 200 manatee deaths that were specifically attributed to red tide.”
And while manatees are big, they’re far from invincible. Their health is affected by the amount of food they get, whether the water is too hot or cold, and other factors. So adding Red Tide toxins into their already difficult living conditions can make simply existing a tremendous struggle.
“That might be the nail in the coffin,” Douglas said. “It’s very sad. And it should motivate us to do everything that we can to heal red tide.”
The last really awful Red Tide came after Hurricane Irma in 2018. But a few months after Hurricane Ian, Red Tide is flaring up again.
One way to reduce Red Tide is to lessen the amount of man-made pollution flowing into the Gulf. But that is a long-term problem without an easy solution.