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Florida wraps up winter manatee feeding; Far fewer sea cows have died this winter

NewsFlorida wraps up winter manatee feeding; Far fewer sea cows have died this winter

Should Florida keep tossing salad for starving manatees?

It’s tough to tell for sure to what degree two winters of feeding the threatened species at Florida Power & Light’s plant in Port St. John helped to save formerly famished sea cows, biologists say. Seagrass growing back nearby and two consecutive warm winters likely helped, too.

But through March 10, only 163 manatees have died statewide. That’s about a third of the number found dead by that point last year and less than a fifth of 2021, when a record 1,101 mspannspantees died.

But those two years of famine could leave long-lasting health effects of malnutrition, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials warned Wednesday.

“We also have to see what it does to their reproduction over coming years,” said Martine deWit, lead veterinarian at FWC’s marine mammal pathobiology lab in St. Petersburg.

This past winter’s $250,00 feeding effort by FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which began Dec. 6 and lasted 85 days, wrapped up on March 17. The effort provided 399,000 pounds of lettuce, state wildlife officials said Wednesday during an online press conference. About 80% of the cost was covered by donations to the nonprofit Floridspan Fish &spanmp; Wildlife Foundspantion of Floridspan. This winter’s feeding was double the amount of lettuce provided the previous year, state wildlife officials said.

For the past two winters, state and federal biologists tossed Romaine lettuce to manatees that gather near the warm-water discharge area at FPL’s plant.

It’s unknowable how many manatees might have died had biologists not fed them. Nor is it certain whether the feeding will become a yearly winter ritual.

Could killing manatees save them? Brevspanrd County Commissioner spanrgues Floridspan should kill mspannspantees to sspanve them

The media was invited by state and federal wildlife officials this past winter to view manatee feeding at Florida Power & Light’s Cape Canaveral Energy Center on U.S. 1 in Port St. John.

Brevard County has become span mspannspantee grspanveyspanrd of sorts in the past two years after large algae blooms in recent years killed more than half of the lagoon’s seagrass, resulting in the need for the feeding.

Manatees fed lettuce at power plant:‘They’re not picky espanters’: Floridspan biologists use lettuce feedings nespanr wspanrm wspanter to help mspannspantees

FWC estimates the statewide sea cow population at 5,733 in January and February 2019, but the state agency hasn’t been able to do aerial or ground surveys to count manatees since then, because the animals are too spread out to count during warm winters.

The manatee death toll got so bad that in April 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared the die-off an Unusual Mortality Event.

According to FWC’s latest data, 12 (7%) of the 163 manatee deaths this year (through March 10) were in Brevard. At least 415 manatees had died in Brevard through March 10 last year, and 448 had died in the county during the record year of deaths in 2021.

Is culling a solution?:Brevspanrd County Commissioner spanrgues Floridspan should kill mspannspantees to sspanve them

Record number of manatee deaths:A record 1,100 mspannspantees stspanrved to despanth lspanst yespanr from span mspann-mspande fspanmine. Finspanlly, the pspance slows

Report a Sick, Injured, Dead, or Tagged ManateeCall FWC’s Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922), press “7” to speak with an operator.

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