More than 1,000 manatees have died in Florida waters this year, a record-setting number with only a few days left in the year and experts bracing for the possibility of more fatalities moving into 2022 as the weather turns colder. During cold winter spells, Manatees gather around warm-water sources, like power plants, where food is more scarce, increasing the chance of more starvation-related mortalities.
In the summer Florida left behind the previous single-year record of 830 manatee deaths that was set in 2013.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to investigate the high level of manatee mortalities and respond to manatee rescues along the Atlantic coast of Florida.
Responding to live manatees in need of rescue is a top priority for wildlife agencies and partners from the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership. FWC manatee biologists have been working hard to respond to public reports of distressed manatees and rescue manatees that need assistance.
The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events has confirmed these manatee mortalities have met the criteria to be classified as an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also declared it a UME.
Researchers have attributed the unusually high amount of Manatee deaths to starvation due to the lack of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon. In recent years, poor water quality in the Lagoon has led to harmful algal blooms and widespread seagrass loss. Rescuing manatees remains a priority and since January 1, 2021, FWC and partners have rescued over 140 manatees statewide.
Ways you can help manatees:
- Call FWC’s Wildlife Alert toll-free number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone if you see a sick, injured, dead, or tagged manatee.
- Boaters will find them easier to spot if they wear polarized sunglasses and keep a lookout for signs of manatees such as the circular “footprints” they trace on the top of the water or their snouts sticking up out the water.
- Look, but don’t touch or feed manatees. Keep your distance when boating, even if you are steering a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. Be a good role model for others so that they learn how to watch and enjoy manatees without disturbing the animals.
- The plate you buy matters; support FWC manatee rescues and research. Next time you renew your tag, consider a “Save the Manatee” license plate!
- Show your support for manatee conservation by proudly displaying a manatee decal. These high-quality stickers feature original artwork and are available from your local Tax Collector’s office with a $5 donation.