TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – International Manatee Day is recognized around the world on Sept. 7 this year.
Here in Florida, spotting a West Indian manatee, a mating pod or even an “aggregation” (a group of manatees) is very common.
But the manatee has been having a rough year in the state, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission confirming that, as of Aug. 27, a preliminary total of 929 manatees have been killed since the beginning of the year.
The FWC notes that “most deaths occurred during colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon where the majority of seagrass has died off.” The high number of deaths related to lack of food for the manatees in the lagoon led to the declaration of a Unusual Mortality Event.
8 On Your Side has been diligent in our coverage of the UME and how manatees are fairing in the ongoing red tide issues in Tampa Bay throughout the summer, which you can see in some of our previous coverage below.
As mentioned, it’s been a difficult year for these threatened gentle giants:
With the Unusual Mortality Event persisting throughout the state, two United States representatives from Florida – Republican Vern Buchanan from the 13th District and Democrat Darren Soto from the 9th District – introduced legislation to upgrade the status of the West Indian manatee’s status of endangerment.
The manatee is currently listed as “threatened,” upgraded from “endangered” in 2017 due to then increasing numbers of their population.
However, throughout the UME and issues with the summer’s red tide bloom in the Tampa Bay area, there have been bright spots.
Animal care specialists at ZooTampa have been caring for suffering manatees. At one point, their manatee critical care center was even full. The zoo is one of only four locations throughout the state qualified for manatee critical care.
The Bishop Museum of Nature and Science recently renovated its manatee habitat to make it more natural for its manatees in second-stage rehabilitation to better learn about their environment before being released.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced it is building a manatee rehabilitation center to help with the influx of sick and injured manatees, in addition to the crews who help rescue and release manatees.
The loss of life of such a high number of manatees is tragic, but there will always be helpers in the form of animal care staff, biologists and volunteers to help out.
If you see a dead or injured manatee, or a manatee in distress, do not attempt to help the animal. If you see a manatee that appears to be “beached,” do not attempt to put the animal back in the water. Report these instances to FWC at 888-404-3922 or *FWC or #FWC on your cell phone.