Florida Manatees Die in Record Numbers From Lack of Food

A tourist swims with a manatee in Florida.

A record number of manatees have died in Florida this year due to food scarcity in the Indian River Lagoon, officials said.

The loss of seagrass in the waters has caused manatees to die from starvation and malnutrition, according to TCPalm. A total of 841 manatees died, with 312 deaths occurring in Brevard County’s segment of the 156-mile long lagoon from Jan. 1 to July 2 of this year.

Some biologists speculate that water pollution has devastated seagrass beds in the area, according to The Guardian.

“Unprecedented manatee mortality due to starvation was documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring,” Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote, as reported by The Guardian. “Most deaths occurred during the colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon, where the majority of seagrass has died off.”

Wildlife officials declared the deaths of the sea cows as an Unusual Mortality Event, which helps the government to work with Florida and nonprofits to adequately investigate the cause of the high death rate, according to USA TODAY.

The previous death record for manatees was in 2013 when 830 manatees died from subjection to red dye toxins, according to TCPalm.

In addition to the scarce food supply, at least 63 manatees have perished from boat strikes, according to CBS News.

Once classified as endangered, the sea cows were reclassified as threatened in 2017. Some environmentalists are urging officials to consider the animal endangered once again, according to CBS News.

Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan wrote a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in June, asking them to consider recategorizing the “beloved, iconic mammals” as endangered, as reported by CBS News and WTSP Tampa Bay.

Around 6,300 manatees call Florida home. This number has increased by around 1,300 since the 1990s, as reported by The Guardian.

This year, Florida Wildlife officials will receive $8 million, more than double of what is usually dedicated to manatee recovery, to help the manatees rebound, according to USA TODAY.

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