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Manatees Looking Healthier, But Number of Deaths Remains High

manatees feeding.jpg
Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Florida - Wednesday January 11, 2023: During their weekly update on the Manatee feeding program conservation officials said they’re encouraged by the apparent health of many of the animals who’ve come to the feeding site in Brevard County. However, the number of manatee deaths recorded so far this year remains unusually high.

This winter season’s supplemental feeding program began on December 16 and since then, FWC Biologist Michelle Pasawicz said, about 30-thousand pounds of romaine lettuce have been fed to the manatees who’ve shown up at the Indian River Lagoon warm water feeding site off Port St. John.

This past week we’ve seen ranges anywhere from 50 to 150 manatees within the feeding area," said Pasawicz. "So, the warm air and warm water temperatures, they’re causing the manatees to become more active and they’re exploring the areas off the warm water site here in Brevard County.”

And some of that activity is amorous. “We’re seeing some signs of cavorting, or mating behavior, outside of the feeding area, which is a positive sign that those animals are generally (in) better health than we were fearing that we would come into this winter.”

Still, Pasawicz says, other manatees who’ve shown up are in obvious need of feed. “We are seeing a number of animals that are slightly under weight. They’re showing signs of peanut shaped heads, that’s something that biologists look for when we’re identifying animals that might be under weight. Fortunately, they are provided the forage that they need.”

Of greater concern however, in the first 6 days of 2023, 27 manatee deaths were recorded, 4 from cold stress, and 5 apparently from hunger. Most of the others have not yet been necropsied to determined the cause of death.

That is 20 more manatee deaths this year than at the same time last year. And 23 of the deaths occurred along other parts of the Florida Coast, outside of the Indian and Banana River Lagoons.

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.