TALLAHASSEE, Florida. – After a record number of manatee deaths mostly related to malnutrition, state and federal wildlife officials hope to double rescue and rehabilitation capacity before sea cows congregate again in warm waters during Winter.
In a conference call Wednesday with reporters, officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they were continuing to build infrastructure and equipment in anticipation of an increased response. when manatees make their winter return to depleted areas at sea. grasses.
Terri Calleson, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said meetings have long been underway with people involved in rehabilitation about the need to accommodate more sick manatees “in the years to come”.
Calleson said 89 manatees are being treated at facilities across the state, ranging from cases of starvation to injuries from boats. If necessary, resources are available to manage nearly 100.
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“I would really like to see…nearly double if we can put that together,” Calleson said.
“A lot of it depends on the severity (of the condition) of the animals,” Calleson continued. “A critical animal that needs round-the-clock care can really immobilize an entire pelvis until that animal reaches a point where it’s stable.”
Agencies are warning people to be on the lookout for manatees when boating during the upcoming vacation.
This past winter, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Fish and Wildlife Service undertook a highly unusual supplemental feeding effort that provided lettuce to manatees, who are starving because the poor quality of the water and algal blooms have depleted seagrass beds in key feeding areas.
Wildlife officials predict they may have to supply lettuce again to manatees congregating in east coast waters next winter. As of June 3, 575 manatee deaths have been reported this year.
That number was down from 780 deaths at the same time in 2021, when a record 1,101 manatee deaths were reported. But it remains much higher than in other years.
“Animals that have gone through now, two winters of low food resources, will still be stressed,” said Tom Reinert, director of the southern region of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “I expect potentially even higher than normal mortalities next winter.”
State and federal agencies are working with seven organizations to expand rehabilitation capacity.
Calleson said SeaWorld is expanding to provide up to 20 additional spaces, while additional work is underway at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Tampa Zoo and Jacksonville Zoo. Even Walt Disney World offered “ways to play a more integral role.”
“All of these people have come and want to help our efforts and help manatees in general,” Calleson said. “That’s really what it takes. When you’re dealing with 10,000 pound animals, it really takes a village to try and handle, care for and treat these animals.
A new state budget, which takes effect July 1, includes $30 million to improve a network of manatee acute care facilities, restore manatee habitat and fund pilot projects similar to the program. supplementary feeding.
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