Fewer manatees are dying in Florida, but long-term issues remain

Fewer manatees are dying from starvation this year, but state and federal wildlife officials say they are still worried about their long-term prognosis.

A report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows 1,100 manatees died in our state in 2021, which set a record.


While manatee deaths in Florida have slowed recently, calf sightings are down in what is classified as an ongoing unusual mortality event along the state’s Atlantic coast.

“There’s definitely reason for concern. A record number of manatees in 2021, 800 last year, that’s a very large number of manatees if you’re looking at a population of 6-7k,” said Cora Berchen, a manatee research associate with the Save the Manatee Club. “Manatees don’t reproduce very quickly so making up for a really big loss like that, that’s a long-term issue.”

Read: ‘Manatee watchers’ to be trained in Volusia County this week

As is the manatees’ lack of suitable habitat, particularly in the Indian River Lagoon where poor water quality has led to algae blooms and seagrass loss for years.

This winter,  FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorized a supplemental feeding trial again at the temporary field response station and unified command center at FPL’s Cape Canaveral Energy Center. Manatees observed there and elsewhere,  appear to be in better physical condition than in years past.

Read: Record number of rescued manatees returned to Florida’s waters

“The bad news is there are less manatees left to die. we lost so many that the ones that are left over right now may be in better condition than the years before,” said Dr. Martine Dewit, FWC marine mammal veterinarian.

Meanwhile, the manatees released at Blue Spring State Park are equipped with GPS tracking devices allowing researchers to monitor their progress over the next year.

Read: Wildlife officials ramp up efforts to save manatees in Brevard County

“I think we need to understand this is a long-term problem. It’s not going to get solved overnight,” Berchen said “A lot of people would like to see a quick change. But I like to say it’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”

Right now, FWC is in the process of conducting its latest manatee count. The state of Florida committed $30 million in the 2022-23 budget to enhance manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts and provide habitat restoration.

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