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Date of Issue: January 13, 2006

Sandscript

Manatee death toll awful; current problems in the oceans?

2005 was a deadly year for manatees off Florida's coasts.

And some people are blaming the death toll in part on Hurricane Katrina.

A total of 396 manatees died off Florida's waters last year, the second-worst year since mortalities have been recorded. Red tide was suspected in at least 81 deaths, while boaters killed another 80, up from a decline of boat-manatee deaths for the two years prior.

And Katrina's impact?

It seems that law enforcement officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission went to Mississippi and Louisiana to aid in relief efforts after the storm made landfall. With a dearth of about 100 officers, errant boaters here were left without any oversight, and speeding boats struck and killed more manatees as a result.

Jeez, does it take a water cop looming over one's shoulder to keep a boater from speeding through manatee waters? I guess so.

It was in 1996 that manatee deaths spiked since record-keeping began in 1974, when 415 sea cows died. That year also saw a high incidence of red tide off the coast, and 149 succumbed to the toxic brew that the algae produced. To help bring the numbers into perspective, there were only four manatee deaths attributed to red tide in 2004, versus 205's 81.

The red tide mortality figures could also climb as some of the 105 "undetermined" deaths of manatees are further studied, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

There are an estimated 3,000-plus manatees paddling around the waters off Florida, and the next aerial manatee census is expected to take place later this month.

Red tide anniversary

We're past the one-year mark of the latest red tide outbreak that has plagued Southwest Florida. Reports last Friday indicated low readings off New Pass in Sarasota, a moderate reading off Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, and patchy reports elsewhere, none of any real note.

It is still out there? Sure, it is always lurking in the background. Can the algae bloom again? Sure. What causes the blooms? Dunno for certain.

When, or if, red tide returns is one of those wait-and-see elements that makes living on the edge of a big body of water so interesting. It's like waiting for that Category 5 toxic plume to hit - you know it will someday, you just don't know when.

Ocean current change = dramatic climate change?

Here's another one of those bad sensationalized TV weather movies: Global warming spurs melting of the polar ice caps. The inrush of freshwater into the world's oceans warms the seas, causes a shift in the currents and, instead of the nice warm water flowing via the Gulf Stream to moderate western Europe, icy water flows in its place and the region is plunged into an ice age.

According to the journal Nature, scientists have found that something similar to the sci-fi scenario did take place about 55 million years ago, according to fossil records just uncovered.

Apparently, way back then, ocean temperatures shot up by something like 8 degrees Celsius. It is postulated to have been spurred by the warming of the planet.

Most deepwater ocean currents travel from south to north, from the warm equator to the chilly poles. The cold water is generally more saline that the warmer waters. Apparently, there is some evidence that when the cold water surfaces by the ice caps, and runs into fresher water, it warms. Enough warming, and the traditional south-to-north flow can flip, with globally disastrous results.

The evidence is indicated in microscopic critter analysis that has been taken from deep core samples in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans by a team of scientists.

As Nature described the shift: "Perhaps most remarkable is how abrupt the changes were. ‘The switch in circulation took just a few thousand years,' said one researcher, ‘but then it took 100,000 years to revert. So if the ocean flips on us we may be living with that change for a long, long time. It's sort of frightening.'"

Another frightening thing about all this current current change is that there are definite signs that indicate that the seas are indeed warming, the ice caps are indeed melting, but the degree of warmth or melt is not yet known to be sufficient to cause the currents to flip.

Still crusing

My buddy Stan Zimmerman is again offering his "Cruising (with) Class" course at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, and any sailors - or any boaters, for that matter - should give some thought to attending. It is free, after all.

The course has begun and will continue through February at 7 p.m. Monday nights. It's geared for the novice or the experienced waterperson and offers some good tips that Stan has learned the hard way after spending three decades on sailboats.

Topics include local weather and currents, coastal navigation without electronics, cooking and provisioning, safe anchoring, simplified sail handling, stormy weather tactics, useful gunkhole anchorages along this coast and useful knots cruising sailors should know.

As Stan puts it, "Even old salts can learn something new and new salts certainly will benefit from the instructor's trial-and-error lessons of 30 years along this coast. You are expected to take notes, so bring paper and pencil, as well as 6-foot hank of line to practice your knots."

The class is held on the Squadron porch in Ken Thompson Park, east of Mote Marine Laboratory on City Island in Sarasota, which is just across the bridge from Longboat Key.

Sandscript factoid

This is without question the worst clean joke I've heard in years. Thanks, Doris Silverthorn, for inflicting it upon us all.

A frog walks into a bank and approaches the loan officer. He can see from her nameplate that her name is Patricia Whack.

"Miss Whack, I'd like to get a $30,000 loan to take a holiday."

Patty looks at the frog in disbelief and asks his name. The frog says his name is Kermit Jagger, his dad is Mick Jagger, and that it's OK, he knows the bank manager.

Patty explains that he will need to secure the loan with some collateral.

 The frog says, "Sure. I have this," and produces a tiny porcelain elephant, about an inch tall, bright pink and perfectly formed.

Very confused, Patty explains that she'll have to consult with the bank manager and disappears into a back office.

She finds the manager and says, "There's a frog called Kermit Jagger out there who claims to know you and wants to borrow $30,000, and he wants to use this as collateral."

She holds up the tiny pink elephant. "I mean, what in the world is this?"

The bank manager looks back at her and says ...

"It's a knickknack, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan. His old man's a Rolling Stone."

You're singing it, aren't you? Yeah, I know you are.

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