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Manatee mortality numbers rise, but FWC is hopeful about the future

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Florida still is seeing an unusually high number of manatee mortalities, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission believes its efforts are helping. 

The FWC's recent mortality report showed the total number of manatees in Florida between January and September increased to 705, with 29 being recorded in September. Last year, the FWC recorded 1,101 by the end of December, and in 2020 about 640.

Despite the count, the FWC regional director Tom Ryan was pleased to announce that water quality and habitat restoration are improving; the low quality of which previously led to a deficit of nutrients in the water and led to the large death of seagrass beds — the primary source of manatee food, causing many to starve. Although, the FWC officially considers manatees a threatened species.

“I feel very positive about it, it's still, you know, a dire situation, I don't want to downplay it at all. But I feel like we're within a year of this under our belt, we're going to be even more efficient, more effective in the year to come.”

Saving animals

The Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership announced during the meeting that it had successfully rescued 96 manatees — about a third of which are in SeaWorld Orlando, said Amber Howell, of the FWC research institute. It was announced the theme park will be adding 20 rehab spaces for manatees in need by the beginning of February.

Additionally, the MRP is getting ready to release animals back into the wild, Howell said.

"This winter, the MRP will hopefully have a bit of space coming online because they'll have about 20 to 24 rehabilitated orphan calves that have met benchmarks for release for both weight and length, and we'll be returned to the wild this winter," she said.

Getting ready for winter

The FWC has not begun its supplemental feeding trial just yet and doesn't plan to until the waters cool. Earlier this year it implemented the feedings of romaine and butterhead lettuce to assist manatees searching for seagrass, which became harder to come by because of water quality problems. The FWC is expecting to start the program again sometime in December and manatees begin congregating at the Cape Canaveral FPL power plant area.

Ron Mezich of Florida Fish and Wildlife during the meeting reminded boaters to be careful of manatees as seasonal zones become active.

“Zones are going into effect. We also know manatees have been congregating in fairly large numbers in Mosquito Lagoon looking for forage," he said. "And so there are a large number of manatees up there all summer and still using that area. So if you're out in the water, please keep a lookout to avoid any interactions with manatees there.”

Correction: a previous iteration of this story had the name Ron Messick, when it should have read "Mezich."