The Florida manatee population has grown in recent years. With at least 7,520 of these native Floridian animals in the wild, they were recategorized from "endangered" to "threatened" in May, 2017.
However, a new threat has been menacing these gentle giants. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have reported a substantial number of manatee deaths along Florida's Atlantic coast.
Last year, over 1,000 manatees died in the state, the largest number in decades. State wildlife officials say that the cause is likely starvation due to reduced amounts of seagrass and colder than normal weather.
To give the manatees a hand up, officials are distributing around 20,000 pounds of vegetation to the manatees each week. The produce, primarily romaine and butter leaf lettuce, is being given out at a temporary feeding ground at Florida Power & Light's Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center.
Each day, anywhere from 25 to 800 manatees show up to eat. While it will be years before the full impact of the past year's unusual mortality event is known, experts say that the daily feedings are making a positive difference.
For those who wish to help manatees, these options make a difference:
- Look, but don't touch, when you see manatees out on the water. Also, feeding manatees as an individual is currently illegal.
- Wear polarized sunglasses when boating. This makes them easier to spot in the water. Keep an eye out for the circular rings left on the water when they submerge after sticking their snouts out to breathe.
- Call FWS' Wildlife Alert number (1-888-404-FWCC or #FWC on your mobile phone) if you see a hurt, sick, dead, or tagged manatee.
- Donate to Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida's Marine Mammal Fund. This fund is used to buy produce to feed manatees and to address other needs to keep the population safe and healthy.