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FWC Vet: Manatees in the Indian River Lagoon Face Continued Threat Unless They Leave and Forage Elsewhere

manatees feeding.jpg
Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
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Florida-April 7, 2022: A veterinarian with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Thursday painted a bleak picture for the manatee population in the Indian River Lagoon saying they face a continued threat of starvation unless they leave the Lagoon and forage elsewhere.

Dr. Martine deWitt spoke during a webinar held Thursday by the FWC following the conclusion of the manatee feeding program which ended last week on March 31.

The carcass numbers are on the decline statewide said Dr. deWit. 457 manatee carcasses were recovered from Dec 1 through March 31 of this year. That's 125 fewer dead manatees over the same time period in the previous winter. “But that does not mean that manatees did better," said Dr. deWit.

"There could be several explanations, but it likely had to do with a later start to winter. December was relatively warm," she said, "and then we had a relatively short winter. So that may have helped some manatees.”

However Dr. deWit said that the number of deaths in the Brevard county stretch of the Indian River Lagoon was higher past winter. “Last winter was 297 versus 316 this winter. So we believe that almost all of these animals died from the cause of UME, which is chronic malnutrition and starvation.”

Dr. deWitt also said they’ve seen a number of manatees who survived the winter, but remain in poor health because they still can’t find enough sea grass to eat in the Indian River Lagoon. “We’re seeing some animals looking worse than last winter," she said. "The effects of really poor health conditions are pretty dramatic."

"So moving into the summer we expect that for many animals in the Indian River Lagoon especially if they stick around, their health will be poor unless they venture out to other areas where they can find good quality nutrition," said Dr. deWit.