TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced an expanded effort Wednesday to respond to a manatee unusual mortality event along the Atlantic coast of Florida.
Over the past year, more than 1,000 manatees died across the state of Florida according to Thomas Eason, Assistant Executive Director, FWC. Eason said the majority of those deaths were the result of starvation.
“Lack of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon has lead to a large number of the mortalities over the last year,” Eason said.
In response, a joint incident command system was created for wildlife managers to share information and maximize response efficiency. Eason said they are prepared to do an “experimental supplemental feeding” this winter if necessary.
The feeding could help lower the number of manatee starvation deaths which are expected to rise.
“We are hoping for more warm days to keep the manatees dispersed so they can find the food where it is and not get concentrated into areas where the food is not abundant,” Eason said. “We’ve decided this unprecedented event requires unprecedented actions.”
“Nothing that we’ve seen yet on the West Coast that really sparks anything close to what we’re seeing on the East Coast,” said Jaime Vaccaro, a Supervisor with ZooTampa at Lowry Park.
Experts at Zoo Tampa believe the experiment could save manatees in the bay area too.
At ZooTampa staff care for some of the most critically sick and injured manatees.
They hope the drastic action will ensure the problem doesn’t happen on the West Coast.
“It’s even more important now that we’re looking at a situation that’s not just going to turn itself around in a few days,” said Vaccaro.
Officials also stressed that it is illegal to feed a manatee, and said it could do more harm than good if the public tried to take matters into their own hands.