Wildlife officials bring back feeding program for Florida manatees

Manatee eating lettuce
A rescued manatee eats a head of lettuce at Miami Seaquarium in 2016. Photo: Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo

Leafy greens are back on the menu for manatees for the second year in a row.

What’s happening: The US Fish and Wildlife Service began hand-feeding lettuce to manatees along Florida’s east coast last month to get them through December’s first cold front, Florida Today reports.

Why it’s important: Over 800 manatees died in Florida in 2022, the second-deadliest year ever recorded, according to preliminary Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) data released this month.

  • The federal wildlife agency is considering whether to reclassify the rotund West Indian manatee and subspecies — including the Florida manatee — as endangered, which environmentalists have called for to ensure more resources to stop the star.

How we got here: An “unusual mortality event” that began in the Indian River Lagoon in December 2020 — starvation, from grass beds depleted by pollution and debris — contributed to a record 1,100 reported manatee deaths in 2021 alone.

  • That is 13% of the estimated population of the subspecies in one year.

What we see: US Fish and Wildlife Service has until February to decide whether to reclassify the Florida manatee.

Anything else: $5.3 million was added to the state budget last year to fund Florida’s Manatee Rescue and Mortality Response initiative, prompting 12 employees and rescue vehicles.

  • The state also gave The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature a grant last summer to build a new facility in Myakka to care for manatees.

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