Manatee Awareness Month: Gentle giants on the move as death toll closes in on 1,000 this year

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As November begins, the west Indian manatee here in Florida will begin to move into warmer waters, such as power plants with warm water discharge, like TECO’s Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, and springs such as Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County.

Nov. 1 also marks the beginning of “Manatee Awareness Month,” as the animals begin to move when water temperatures dip below 68 degrees, where they will remain until around March. Florida spring water averages between 68 to 72 degrees year-round.

The year 2021 has been detrimental for the species. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a total of 984 manatees have died as of Oct. 22, only 89 of those preliminary ruled as watercraft-related deaths.

This year has already surpassed Florida’s previous record of 830 manatee deaths in 2013.

Many of these deaths are related to the die-off of seagrass in Brevard County’s Indian River Lagoon.

That’s something Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Executive Director, of Save the Manatee Club, believes will continue to be an issue throughout the colder months of Florida weather, especially on the east coast.

“Not only are we going to see more than 1,000 manatees die this year, we’re going to be seeing a repeat of [what] could be hundreds more,” he said. “So there’s a lot of work going on right now to ensure we have more space to rescue manatees and have them treated before they would succumb to that starvation. Tremendous amount going on now to try to better understand the health condition of as many manatees as possible on the east coast in particular, so we can be ready.”

In an October address to a subcommittee of lawmakers, the director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Gil McRae, asked for over $33 million to help the manatee. A total of $3 million in funds would be used for the restoration and enhancement of habitats.

Throughout November, Save the Manatee Club will be offering educational material about manatee awareness and information on how to protect these gentle giants. The nonprofit will be sharing manatee activities, games, quizzes and ways the public can help manatees throughout the winter months.

The latest estimate on the state’s manatee population is about 8,800 manatees, according to data presented by McRae, collected over 2015-2016.

All sick, injured or dead manatees should be reported to FWC by calling #FWC or *FWC.

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