Pace of Florida manatee deaths slows after record year

Record 1,100 manatees starved to death in 2021

In this Dec. 28, 2010, file photo, a group of manatees are in a canal where discharge from a nearby Florida Power & Light plant warms the water in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Florida is experiencing an unprecedented die-off of manatees this year, with 959 documented deaths as of mid-October. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – As bad as this year’s manatee deaths seem, for the moment, at least, last year was way worse.

At least 261 manatees have died so far this year in Florida, through Feb. 11, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

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Of those, 65 sea cows (about 25% of the total) have been in Brevard, according to the most recent statistics available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Last year, 38 more manatees died in Brevard during the same period, about 13% fewer.

Meanwhile, manatees have been starving in the Indian River Lagoon, as a result of decades of seagrass loss.

A record 1,100 manatees starved to death last year from a man-made famine that has choked out the seagrass — the staple of the sea cow’s diet.

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. In a first-of-its kind pilot project to try to stave off further starvation, state and federal biologists have been feeding manatees at the FPL plant since mid December. They plan to feed the manatees through the end of March.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission stats, at least 65 manatees died in Brevard between Feb. 5 and Feb. 11 as follows:

  • Feb. 11 — 13 deaths
  • Feb. 10 — 8 deaths
  • Feb. 9 — 7 deaths
  • Feb. 8 — 9 deaths
  • Feb. 7. — 7 deaths
  • Feb. 6 — 18 deaths
  • Feb, 5 — 3 deaths

Manatees have been starving for years in the lagoon, as a result of seagrass die-off caused by decades of runoff, sewage, septic tank and other pollution.