JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Marine biologists are concerned after more manatees died in Florida within the first three months of 2021 than in all of 2020
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported 649 manatee deaths from Jan. 1, 2021, to April 9, 2021, compared to all of 2020. The FWC says the manatee deaths and manatee mortalities are taking place along the central and south Atlantic coast of Florida.
The FWC is working with the federal government to investigate why so many manatees are dying. The state agency has declared this an “Unusual Mortality Event.” This means it’s unexpected and involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population and requires an immediate response.
“There have been an extremely high number of deaths this winter and certainly the number one concern is lack of food out there,” said Craig Miller, curator of mammals at the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens.
Miller is talking about the lack of seagrass. According to the FWC, “while the investigation is ongoing, initial assessments indicate the high number of emaciated manatees is likely due to a decline in food availability.”
Miller oversees the manatee critical care center, which is one of four centers in the state. In February, the zoo released five rehabilitated manatees.
News4Jax asked Miller if there is hesitation to get these animals back out there: “two of those five were from East Coast and because of everything going on, we actually released them at blue spring,” he said. “It just didn’t seem like the best idea to put them back in that environment.”
With colder winter temperatures than usual, all it takes is for the water to drop below 68 degrees for the mammals to become cold-stressed. Biologists say as temps are warming up, manatees will travel to other areas of the state, but Miller says this unusual mortality event is expected to continue for a while longer.