SeaWorld makes more space to help Florida’s manatees

1,101 manatees died in 2021

ORLANDO, Fla. – SeaWorld is ramping up its efforts to help Florida’s manatees after 2021 proved to be a record-breaking year for manatee deaths.

Researchers say manatees around the state, but mostly here in the Indian River Lagoon, are starving to death. The sea grass they eat killed off by pollution.

“We’re setting up emergency pools, temporaries right now, which will allow us to bring in 20 more animals in critical need,” said John Peterson, SeaWorld’s vice president of Zoological Operations.

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Peterson said they’ve recently been taking in an average of four manatees a week. He said they’ve been rescuing record numbers of manatees and needing to find a spot for them quickly.

“The starvation event on the east coast, along with things going normal with cold stress, a nice cold week the past two weeks, has created a challenge for space for manatees,” he said.

In 2021, 1,101 manatees died in Florida.

So far this year, through Feb.11, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reports 261 have died. During that same time frame last year, 299 died.

The FWC and SeaWorld have ramped up rescue efforts this year to try and save more.

“Right now, I have people who do our sea lion presentation who are coming down and helping with manatees on their days off,” Peterson said.

The FWC also recently set up a temporary, experimental feeding station in the Lagoon in Cocoa.

“We’ve provided about 50,000 pounds of mixed produce and lettuce, primarily lettuce,” said Tom Reinert with the FWC during its weekly update Wednesday.

The researchers said it’s starting to bring in more sea cows looking for food.

“The first day, when we had 25 or 30 animals there, since that point we haven’t had less than 60 for a day and we’ve had as much as up to 800 there,” Ron Mezich said with FWC.

At SeaWorld, Peterson said they’re working with partners like zoos and aquariums to find room for the manatees they rescue but hopefully, adding more pools in Orlando will speed up the rehab process.

“We rescue, rehabilitate and return animals as quick as we humanly can and that is what you do if you want to get in front of a crisis,” he said.

About the Author:

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