ORLANDO, Fla. – Manatees are dying at a record rate this year. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data showed as of last week, 819 manatees have died throughout the state. The majority of those deaths are happening in Central Florida in the Indian River Lagoon.
While there’s been a lot of deaths, rescuers are also busy.
SeaWorld’s animal specialists are in a tight race against nature to save our manatees. They said they’ve rescued 34 manatees so far this year and that’s on track to surpass their record of 72 in one year.
“On the east coast, there’s a lack of food and that’s causing us to respond to a lot of rescues there. On the west coast, there’s the possibility for red tide coming back this year,” Nick Ricci said.
Ricci, one of the specialists, said poor water quality in the Indian River Lagoon is killing the seagrass they eat. Biologists estimate the seagrass in the lagoon has decreased by 58% since 2009.
“We’re unfortunately either getting animals that are emaciated, completely starving, or FWC is responding to carcasses,” he said.
The rescuers feed them and get them to a healthy weight before they release them back to the wild. Ricci said FWC typically will take the report of a sick manatee, send a biologist out to watch them and then call in the rescue teams.
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It’s not just sick manatees they’re caring for, though.
“There’s only four critical care facilities in the state and we get orphans quite often,” Ricci said.
They currently have two babies in their care, too. Ricci said they’ll be released usually after three years, once they’re 600 pounds and it’s wintertime.
“When cold weather strikes, manatees need to move and find warm water so the best way we have to teach a baby that has not experienced that of the natural environment is to release them in the winter when other adults are making that migration,” he said.