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Keywords:

  • forensic methods;
  • watercraft-induced wounds;
  • Florida manatee;
  • Trichechus manatus latirostris;
  • propeller wounds;
  • trauma

Abstract

Watercraft-related mortality represents 1,253 (24.9%) of 5,033 Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) deaths recorded between 1 January 1979 and 31 December 2004. Wound patterns generated by collisions with watercraft are diagnostic. Sets of cuts and scrapes that are roughly equidistant and perpendicular to the direction of vessel travel are consistent with lacerations made by propeller blades. From these lesions, estimates of propeller diameter, pitch, rotation, and direction of travel may be obtained. Considerable overlap of propeller sizes and pitches on different size vessels, common use of counter rotation propellers, and numerous other complicating factors may confound efforts to accurately predict vessel size and type from propeller wounds. Of the more than one million watercraft registered in Florida, 98% are ≤12.2 m (40 ft), yet watercraft 5.3–36.6 m (17.5–120 ft) are known to have killed manatees. Analysis of a 5-yr subset of mortality data suggests that a disproportionate number of propeller-caused watercraft-related mortalities could be attributed to propeller diameters ≥43.2 cm (17 in.), inferring that these were caused by watercraft ≥12.2 m (40 ft).