Feeding and rescuing hungry manatees in Central Florida has been demobilized, with authorities now thinking about the lessons learned, except.
“A lot of what has been done this winter will put us in a better position for the 2022-23 winter,” said Teresa Calleson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We’ll continue now.”
Wildlife authorities have not confirmed that a similar response will begin again later this year for the coming winter but they have repeatedly said it may be.
Late last year, Florida and wildlife officials established a temporary warehouse at Florida Power & Light Co. electric plant on the Indian River south of Titusville, where manatees are tempted in the cold by the release of warm water.
From that point on, they set up rescuers and manatees to feed 200,000 pounds of lettuce. That part of the Indian River was depleted of grass, the main food for manatees, due to the collapse of the polluted ecosystem. Winter cold is often fatal for animals weak from hunger.
The power of wildlife should consider whether feeding manatee has had a significant impact on manatee survival or whether it has changed their behavior in dangerous or long -term ways.
Some officials spoke directly on Friday at a public consultation on their views.
The total for 2021 is the state’s record at 1,101 deaths.
Martine de Wit, a state physician and scientist, said since Dec. 1 to March 1 there were 457 dead manatees in the state, less than the number of 582 in the same period last year.
“But it doesn’t make sense that manatees are any better,” de Wit said.
He said it was warmer this winter than last winter and the manatees were divided into two winters.
And in Brevard County, where emergency feeding took place, 316 percent this winter and 297 percent last winter, de Wit said.
The FPL plant finds about 800 manatees in the very cold season or can serve as a shelter for 100 to 300 of the animals.
Feeding them requires fertilizers, a large staff and other equipment and measurements. Jon Wallace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the habitat has been removed from the FPL plant but could be reunited.
“We want to be able to find people where they can start standing up to things, to start ramping up our response if the manatees want to,” Wallace said.
Andy Garrett of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 17 starving manatees had been rescued this winter, compared to 28 last winter.
“In addition to rescue operations, hundreds of dead manatees have been collected from the environment by FWC law enforcement and American staff and wildlife,” Garrett said.
Officials said the practice of feeding manatees in the wild was not legal, it gave them a new challenge.
“Going into this, we don’t know how it’s going to be done and how it’s going to be done and if it’s going to be done,” said Ron Mezich of the state wildlife commissioner. “So we learned a lot.”
Manatee praises state, feeds for allowing feeding when mammals die
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