Florida Manatees Dying at an Alarming Rate Due to Famine

The majority of manatee deaths have occurred between Florida's Brevard and Broward counties, where the seagrass the manatees like to eat is scarce.

Photo: Getty

A seagrass famine is wreaking havoc on the Florida manatee population, resulting in an alarming number of manatee deaths.

As of May 14, 739 manatee deaths have been recorded in 2021 already, according to a report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The majority of these manatee deaths occurred between Florida's Brevard and Broward counties, most notably in the Indian River lagoon, per the FWC's report.

The 739 manatee death count in the first half of 2021 has exceeded Florida's five-year average for manatee deaths, the FWC report shows. Last year, a total of 277 manatees were reported dead.

If this rate of manatee deaths continues, Florida could surpass the record of 830 manatee deaths recorded in 2013, per TC Palm.


A big reason for this rapid decline in the manatee population is the loss of the animal's seagrass habitat, which leaves the marine mammals without a substantial food supply, TC Palm reported, citing biologists.

Martine de Wit, a veterinarian with Florida's marine mammal pathology lab, told Phys.org that veterinarians at the institution saw manatees with "severe emaciation."

Meanwhile, Patrick Rose, an executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, told the Tampa Bay Times that manatees had not lost just fat, but also muscle. "It is a persistent, gnawing hunger, and it also weakens their ability to go about their normal physical activities," he said. "They probably made many forays in places trying to find food where it traditionally was. It is not a pleasant thing."

Manatees are currently considered a threatened species, a step below the endangered status they held a few years, Phys.org noted. On the FWC's website, the organization noted that Florida's waters are home to an estimated 7,520 manatees.

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