Florida begins emergency feeding, rescue of starving manatees

Record numbers of endangered manatees are dying as polluted waters kill off their food sources

Florida wildlife officials will undertake a manatee feeding and rescue operation involving hand-feeding the mammals romaine lettuce, amid unprecedented mortality among the gentle aquatic creatures affectionately known as “sea cows”.

Typically, manatees return to warm water winter feeding grounds, where they feast on plentiful seagrass.

But algal blooms from polluted waters have devastated seagrass beds, and thereby wiped out the important food source for the manatees. Algal blooms and manatee deaths have been especially pronounced along Florida’s Atlantic coast, leading to record-breaking mortality.

“Our agencies and Unified Command partners carefully considered all aspects of a short-term feeding trial,” said Shannon Estenoz, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks with the federal Department of Interior, in a release.

“It is critical we help manatees in the short term with actions that are compatible with their long-term wellbeing and resilience.”

Normally slow-moving and plump, manatees along Florida’s east coast have shown signs of starvation, and appeared emaciated with protruding ribs. Manatee deaths have overwhelmed local rescue groups and even the ecosystem. Hundreds of manatee carcasses have had to be towed to remote islands, where they have been left to rot, the Palm Beach Post reported.

“They are starving, and […]