This is a positive sign for the Florida manatee – mortality seems to have been slowly declining this year compared to the past in Florida. But there are challenges faced by gentle giants, and the feeding program may have opened up a new reality for manatees.
According to the FWC537 manatees died in the first three months of 2021. But over the same period this year, 441 deaths were reported. While this is moving in the right direction, the Brevard County feeding program has found that Florida manatees are desperate for food.
“This is an unprecedented event. We used to have big problems, such as the red tide, when we affected a lot of animals, but it’s different, it’s long-term, it will take some time to restore seaweed here, “said Ron Mezic, head of the FWC’s Unified Command. “When we came out of the eastern winter, it prompted us to start discussions that summer, what other options do we have that are not yet on the table?”
In December 2021, the FWC launched the first-ever feeding program, and by mid-January, officials said manatees had eaten virtually “every scrap” of the produce they exhibited, further showing how scarce their food source had become.
“For us, it’s an ambiguous thing, it’s proof of concept, that it was very good that we were here and here to help and help animals,” said Mezic. “But, truth be told, we’d like them not to be here, we’d like them to adapt and be in a different place where there’s food, and they can do it on their own.”
By the end of March 2022, they will be feeding about 200,000 pounds of produce. But they said the program was only a winter intervention and was never run throughout the year. Therefore, the program is planned to be stopped in the next week and a half. Then check out their efforts ahead of the 2022 winter season, where they are likely to start the program again.
Lisa Smith, head of animal care at Tampa Zoo, said the lack of seaweed is not such a big issue on the West Coast, but she cares for a few injured, sick or orphaned manatees. They are fed about 1,000 pounds of salad a day. She said she was not surprised by their reaction to this type of product.
«They have to eat almost all day, they eat 10 to 15% of their body weight. So for an adult, it will be more than 100 pounds a day of necessary food, ”she said.
They usually rehabilitate manatees that are malnourished, but most often it is a secondary problem caused by cold, a blow to the boat or another type of injury. They have a manatee nicknamed “Velvet” who got a sinus fracture and got antibiotics to help him fight any infection.
“In fact, it is a pity that it is very difficult for them now, and it certainly harms their population,” she said. “Here at the zoo, we really try to focus on our patients and the animals we can bring to us, help them recover, release them back into the wild so we can make more space and continue to help manatees.”
They also care for four orphaned calves. She said they will have to stay with them until they are 2 years old.
“They are here because they were found alone. We don’t know exactly why they were left alone when they were abandoned by their mother, but they would not have survived alone in the wild, ”she said.
The FWC said one thing we can all do to show our support for manatees – is to purchase a special license plate for manatees for your car or ship. This money goes to help the species.
You can also help by keeping the manatee habitat clean, and volunteer your time to train others. The most important thing is to be aware and be prepared on the waterways. Follow all signs of waterways, use protective screws properly, and avoid traveling on seagrass or other shallow water areas.