Florida reports 1,101 manatee deaths in 2021, marking record year

359 deaths occurred in Brevard County, most in state

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida reported 1,101 manatee deaths in 2021, marking the highest number of deaths on record in a single year.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission released new numbers Wednesday documenting the deadly year manatees faced in the state. In Central Florida, the FWC reported 359 deaths in Brevard County, the most in the state.

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On Wednesday, 180 manatees showed up at Blue Spring State Park, including one researchers released back into the wild the day before. They said they found it in starving conditions, which is something they saw a lot in 2021 and are trying to stop from happening so frequently in 2022.

“Here at Blue Spring, the manatees overall are looking really good. They actually have plenty of food out in the St. Johns’ River,” said Cora Berchen, a researcher with the Save the Manatee Club.

Save the Manatee is a nonprofit organization based out of Central Florida that supports manatee research in the state.

“The manatees here at Blue Spring are not really facing the same issues as the manatees over in the Indian River Lagoon are facing,” she said.

The Indian River Lagoon is where the majority of the state’s manatees died in 2021. The researchers said the seagrass they eat has been killed off by chemicals like fertilizer.

“Especially in the northern Indian River Lagoon, we’ve lost about 95% of that biomass. There are areas, about 60%, where it’s gone totally,” said Dr. Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee.

The FWC and researchers just started experimental feeding outside of the power plant in Cocoa, where the lagoon’s manatees typically congregate for food in winter but Rose said the unseasonably warm weather means few have shown up to the site yet.

An FWC worker puts lettuce in a feeding trough at the experimental feeding site at the FPL power station in Cocoa, where manatees are known to gather when it's cool outside. (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

He said they are also ramping up efforts to rescue more, though, and rehab sites like zoos and aquariums are asking the state for funding to create more room.

“There had been 159 manatees rescued this year (2021), of which there’s almost 90 in captivity now being taken care of,” he said.

The FWC wants to stress it is illegal for the public to feed manatees.

If you see an ailing manatee, the state asks that you call and report it to 1-888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922). Boaters are urged to abide by speed regulations, avoid motoring over shallow seagrass beds, and to keep their powerboats at least 50 feet from any manatees they see.

To read the full report from FWC, click here.

About the Authors:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.

Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.