Updated: Dec 9, 2021
Photo by The J Clark
Conservationists in Florida are extremely concerned about the record number of manatee deaths this year.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), many manatees starved last winter during their migration to warm-water destinations because of a dwindling food supply.
This year almost 1,000 manatees have died, breaking the record of 830 deaths in 2013. Because of the emergency, the manatee might again be placed on the endangered species list. This would be the second time. Manatees were on the list from 1967 to 2017, when they were upgraded to “threatened.”
The much-loved marine mammals are reportedly starving because polluted water is destroying their food supply. The FWC said seagrass and seaweed, the mainstays of the manatee diet, are being lost to pollution, which causes algae blooms that cloud out the sunlight and kill the plants.
“The deaths from this last year alone represent almost 20% of the population lost,” said Kimberleigh Dinkins, the senior conservation associate for Save the Manatee Club. “It is happening on both coasts, so it is a statewide concern.”
The three major species of manatees, all of which are at risk of extinction, are the West Indian, the West African, and the Amazonian, the smallest of the species. The West Indian manatee is found off the coast of Florida.
To save Florida’s starving manatees, local wildlife authorities are organizing supplemental feedings. The FWC is “piloting some supplemental feeding programs,” said Dinkins. “It will be very limited. It will be specific to people who have permits, not individuals going out and feeding the manatees.”
Rescue efforts are considered a counterpart to the supplemental feeding program. Dinkins expressed the importance of reaching out to the FWC if you spot a manatee that could be in danger. Signs of a suffering manatee include visible ribs, a sunken area behind the head, a calf with no adults around, and what appears to be an inability to resubmerge.
To report a struggling manatee, call 888-404-FWCC (3922).
The emergency facing manatees is not sustainable. Save the Manatee Club and other organizations are working tirelessly to figure out long-term solutions that could save these majestic creatures.