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Manatees Return to the Feeding Site, But Not Many, and They Appear to Be in Better Health


Florida - Wednesday December 28, 2022: The manatee feeding program has begun. A few dozen of them have shown up at the Indian River Lagoon feeding site over the past few weeks. And so far, the good news is, fewer manatees have shown up looking to be feed, and wildlife officials say they appear to be in better health, but they warn more deaths from starvation are still expected this year.

After last week's cold snap water temperatures in the Indian River Lagoon dropped to 51 degrees, well below the 68 degree temperatures manatees can handle. But
only about 29 manatees arrived at the FWC warm water feeding site near the FP&L power plant in Port St. John, far fewer than last winter. Just 10 remained as of Wednesday morning.

“Going into this year we still consider this a trial. We are adapting daily finding out new things and the goals remain the same," said Florida Fish and Wildlife’s Ron Mezich. "Reducing mortality and rescues, not changing the behavior of the animals and habituating them more to these sites, and then we are again monitoring water quality to make sure we don’t affect that as well.”

While only a small number of manatees have shown up for feeding this year, and it’s hard to tell by looking at them from the surface, FWC’s Michelle Pasawicz says they appear to be healthier.  

“What we are seeing from the surface is that they’re not showing any obvious signs of distress or emaciation," said Pasawicz. "But we certainly don’t know their full health just from observations from the water’s surface.”

Manatee mortality statistics:

783 manatees have died as of December 23rd of this year compared to 1080 last year. Some manatees were tracked this past summer foraging for food further south than in the past and there has been some isolated re-growth of seagrass in some areas of the lagoon and that may have contributed to the decline in deaths says Mezich. “Those were two good signs; the animals look like they’re in better health and there was some food available. So, the sooner we get the Indian River Lagoon closer to where it can support these manatees the better off these manatees and we will be.”

FWC Team Leader Tom Reinert agreed. “We’re not going to fix the seagrass situation in the Indian River Lagoon overnight or over the course of a year. Its going to take several years for those seagrasses to come back and its dependent upon a lot of things that are largely out of our control. And we’ll still probably have a tough year for manatees on the Atlantic Coast again this year.”

To report a tagged, sick, injured or dead manatee call the FWC's Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922), press "7" to speak with an operator.

Cellular phone customers should enter - *FWC or #FWC.