Nearly 100 Florida Manatees Died in January Alone

by Courtney Blackann
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After last year’s cold snap, more than 1,000 Florida manatees were left dead from cold and starvation. Wildlife conservationists and scientists are trying to prevent such a loss again. And yet, in the month of January, nearly 100 manatees perished. Researchers are now looking for ways to curb the problem – before the mammals’ population is nonexistent in the Sunshine state.

According to National Geographic, the root of the problem lies with depleted food sources in many Florida water beds. Being herbivores, manatees graze on seagrass and other plants. But for nearly a decade that food source has been running low. Farm waste and pollution are a part of the reason why. The result is emaciated manatees who can’t survive.

Additionally, the cold winters have also been affecting the species. Unlike wales and seals, manatees don’t have a layer of blubber to protect them from the cold. And water that falls below 68 degrees could mean trouble. The two issues are very nearly a death sentence. Do the manatees huddle together and stay warm or do they search for food and risk freezing?

Wildlife Groups Looking Into Issue

Now that the problem is being carefully studied, wildlife groups want the Florida Fish & Wildlife Service to step in and address it.

Several animal conservations are trying to do their part to help, but the resources are limited. There are at least three clinics for malnourished/injured manatees in place in Florida right now. They are hellbent of rescuing the large water elephants. There are a few warning signs to look for when the teams of researchers choose which manatees need the most help. And Patrick Rose, Executive Director, Save the Manatee Club, is speaking with PBS News Hour about it.

“Well, we’re looking at not only how many manatees are here, but, particularly, we’re looking at mostly what body condition they’re in, how many of them are very lean, on their way towards starvation, and then looking for those that would be very sick, that would be having trouble balancing in the water, sideways-swimming, those kinds of things that tell us that manatee is really in trouble and it’s going to need help,” Rose says.

Manatee Clinics Are ‘Short Term Solution’ to Problem

Further, ZooTampa’s Cynthia Stringfield addresses the reasons why conservation clinics can’t be the main solution to the problem.

“This is a short term solution. So we patch them up. We make them better. We do as much as we can. But, as you can see, we have a finite space, so we can only take so many. One year of an event like this is really concerning. But if this continues it, it could be catastrophic for the population,” she says.

Manatees generally need about 100 pounds of seagrass everyday. And with the estimated 5,000 to 7,500 manatees which inhabit Florida, this is a huge problem. Further, seagrass is not just essential for manatees to survive. It helps the whole ecosystem thrive. And while officials are throwing greens in the water in order to feed and study healthy and unhealthy manatees, there’s got to be a better solution.

“The seagrass issue is not going to be solved by next year,” says Tom Reinert, the Florida Wildlife Commission’s regional director, per NatGeo. “So we’re anticipating we may have to repeat [the emergency measures] again next winter using the lessons we’ve learned from this winter to help guide us.”

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