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Manatee Feeding Program Begins to Wind Down for the Season Amidst Hopeful Signs

manatees feeding.jpg
Two manatees competing over food

Florida - Wednesday March 15, 2015: The emergency manatee feeding program is beginning to wind down amidst hopeful signs.

This second winter of feeding hungry manatees in the Indian River Lagoon was launched three months ago. Since December 16th, a total 382-thousand pounds Romaine lettuce has been fed to manatees

During a few of the cold snaps as many as 150 manatees had gathered each day at the warm water feeding site near the FP&L power plant in Port St. John.

But at Wednesday’s weekly media update on the status of the feeding program FWC’s Provisioning Commander Michelle Pasawicz said that number has fallen to between 50 and 100 daily over the past week, and the ones that have shown up are looking fairly healthy.

“In the last month we still have not recovered any manatee carcasses or manatees in distress from the temporary field response station which is great news," said Pasawicz. "Many of the animals that we’re seeing here have been in fair health.”

As a result, FWC Capt. Thomas Van Trees said planning has begun to wrap up this second year of the program. “We are starting to demobilize where we can, but are also making sure we take our time to assess and determine the need so that we don’t leave too early," he said.

The emergency feeding program was begun after 1,102 manatee deaths in 2021, a die off blamed on the vanishing fields of seagrass, the manatee's primary food source, which has struggled to grow in the polluted Lagoon. However, as of March 10 this year, just 163 manatee deaths had been recorded.

FWC’s Andy Garrett leads the FWC’s Rescue and Recovery effort.

“We’re a little bit surprise that rescue and carcass response was well below what we experienced the past two winters. It could be from many different factors," said Garrett. "There was some positive signs on the sea grass front, some of those sea grasses were coming back a little bit. We also did some manatee tagging and health assessment captures in December and they all looked like they were in pretty good body condition going into winter and that could be one reason why the numbers were way down.”

FWC may set a date to wrap up the program for this season before the end of the month following this week’s cold spell.