ORLANDO, Fla. – SeaWorld is doubling the size of its Manatee Critical Care space by adding four pools this week. Over 1,100 manatees died last year in Florida, setting a record for deaths in the state. Researchers said most of the deaths are happening in Central Florida.
The four pools at the space, which hold over 200,000 gallons of water, increase the number of manatees it can hold. On Tuesday, the biologists had 31 manatees in their care and the expansion will allow them to take in more than 60.
“The increased number of manatees that are presenting, that’s double the number of manatees that we saw this time last year. So, it’s real,” said Jon Peterson, SeaWorld’s vice president of zoological operations.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission reported 420 manatees died from January 1 to March 11, 2022 in the state. In the same time frame in 2021 and 2020, respectively, 456 and 176 manatees died.
Most of the deaths have been found in the Indian River Lagoon.
“We understand what’s going on and we can tackle the issues going on there,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Leopoldo Miranda Castro.
Biologists estimate 90% of the seagrass manatees eat in the lagoon has been killed off by pollutants like fertilizer.
Bipartisan legislation has been introduced at both the state and federal level to get funding for seagrass restoration and add protections for the manatee.
“We all see it with our own eyes in Central Florida that the Florida manatee needs to be added at an endangered status again,” Representative Darren Soto said.
FWC set up a Temporary Response Station in Brevard County to rescue and recover more manatees this year. Their researchers said fixing this issue will take time but they’re working to keep the population up.
“We are going through a crisis right now. A very serious one. But we also need to look back, when we first listed the manatee, there were just a few hundred, now we have 7,000 to 8,000,” Mirando Castro said.
SeaWorld’s expansion will also make it the largest critical care facility for manatees in the country.