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UPDATE: Wildlife Authorities Fear More Manatee Deaths, Describe Urgent Rescue Efforts

Credit: David Hinkle  USFWS
Credit: David Hinkle USFWS

State and federal wildlife authorities are characterizing a die-off of Florida manatees as unprecedented. 

They described urgent efforts to brace for more deaths before a meeting Wednesday of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 

A record 890 manatees are dead since January. The problem is especially acute in the Indian River Lagoon, where water quality problems have led to widespread seagrass losses. 

Gil McRae of the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute says the die-off is unusual in that it’s tied to starvation. He says wildlife authorities are considering supplemental feedings. 

“Supplemental feeding of wildlife often does more harm than good. And supplemental feeding of a manatee, an animal that eats hundreds of pounds of vegetation in a day, logically there are some challenges.” 

McRae says they’re also looking into efforts to restore lost seagrasses. The manatee’s population in the state is estimated at 88-hundred. The animal was downlisted in 2017 from endangered to threatened. 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.