DELAND, Fla. — One of Blue Spring State Park's most popular and reliable visitors has been found dead: Dix the manatee.

She gained popularity over the years for hanging out around a large gator and bringing her three calves to the Blue Spring.

According to the Save the Manatee Club, Dix was found just north of Blue Spring in DeLand, and her injuries indicate that she was hit and killed by a boat that was most likely speeding.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) deemed her cause of death as acute watercraft collision.

"So that means most likely a fast speeding boat hit her," said Cora Berchem of Save the Manatee Club. "That could have been anything from a jet ski, up to a large power boat, which we are not sure yet, but its most likely a boater that went way too fast (through) these are slow speed areas, dedicated slow speed zones."

Dix's death highlights a growing problem in Florida waterways. The rate of manatees getting killed by boats is on the rise in 2019.

"The number of manatees getting hit by boats this year has really gone up. Overall, we had 300 manatees being killed this year, and out of those, 81 of those manatees were killed by boats," said Cora Berchem of Save the Manatee Club. "That number in this time frame is larger than anything we have ever recorded before."

Volusia County comes in third for watercraft manatee deaths, only behind Lee and Brevard counties.

"Volusia County has had 16 mortalities total, and eight of them are watercraft," Berchem said. 

Researchers say that thanks to population growth, there are more manatees out there.

Berchem said this could be due to the fact that the overall manatee population is doing better, so there is more of them in the water. She also thinks its a common misconception that because manatee season is over, the manatees are no longer around.

"In the summertime, manatees migrate, so they are out in the St. John's River. They use shallow coastal areas as well as tributaries to the river, so just because they are not packed in here at Blue Spring, they are roaming all around the river," said Berchem.

Even with manatee season over, boaters are being urged to be careful. 

To make sure you are boating safely for manatees, the Save the Manatee Club offered the following tips:

  • Obey the posted speed zones. Go slow so you have more time to avoid manatees, and they have more time to swim out of the way.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses. They cut the glare and make it much easier to see manatees in the water
  • Look out for manatee snouts and footprints. A footprint is a circular pattern on top of the water that the manatee makes when it swims
  • If you see a dead or sick manatee or you accidentally hit one, report it to FWC at 1-888-404-3922

If you are caught speeding in a manatee zone, you could face a hefty fine. If someone is willfully speeding to harm a manatee, fines can range anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and can potentially result in jail time as well.​