Researchers concerned with alarming uptick in manatee deaths

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ORLANDO (NewsNation Now) — Manatees are dying across Florida at an alarming rate. In the first three months of the year, nearly 700 manatees have died in Florida waters compared to less than 250 total deaths in all of 2020, according to a Florida conservation commission.

The numbers are so high, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has declared the deaths a “marine mammal unusual mortality event,” triggering an investigation into the spike in deaths.

Experts say a decline in seagrass, the manatee’s main source of food, is leaving the mammals starved and without adequate food supply. The exact reason for the decline in seagrass is unknown, but scientists suspect algae blooms could be the cause.

“We are trying to figure out why we are losing seagrass at the rate we are. We don’t have that answer,” said Jon Peterson, Sea World. “What I can tell you is it has impacted the manatee population and when you are impacting a population that only has 6,800 animals and is just outside the endangered species list, we are talking about a critical mass number.”

A manatee that was recently transferred to Sea World Orlando was found sick and suffering. Although the female is 800 pounds, she’s underweight and has gashes on her back from where she was struck by a boat.

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Brant Gabriel, who works at Sea World Orlando, told NewsNation the manatee is in critical condition.

“It’s floating high in the water. It’s emaciated. It hasn’t been eating like it should be out there,” Gabriel said. “It’s very critical right now, and that’s one of the reasons we have it in this pool.”

This is not the only ill manatee vets at Sea World are trying to save; there are pools full of them. And the Sea World Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation team isn’t just recusing adult manatees, they’re saving orphaned calves, too.

The calves are hand bottle-fed every three hours. The goal is always to return the manatees to the wild. Rehabilitation takes weeks and sometimes even years.

“We provide around-the-clock care for these guys, Gabriel said. “I think one of the most gratifying things for our team is getting them healthy and getting them back to where they were rescued and seeing their progress.”

Scientists hope that as the waters warm in Flordia, the manatees will naturally move to other areas for the summer with cooler temperatures where they’ll have a better food source.

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