Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Manatee feeding experiment begins as cold looms gradually

An unprecedented, experimental effort to feed starving manatees in Florida has slowly begun, but wildlife officials expressed optimism Thursday that it will work as cold weather drives marine mammals to warmer waters. Is.

A feeding station set up along the state’s east coast has so far lured wild manatees with romaine lettuce, although the animals will eat it in captivity, officials said at a remotely held news conference.

Water pollution from agricultural, urban and other sources has triggered algae blooms that have destroyed the seagrass beds on which manatees depend, leading to a record 1,101 manatee deaths from mass starvation in 2021. The typical five-year average is about 625 deaths.

This brought about the lettuce feeding program, which was part of a joint manatee death response group led by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It is a violation of state and federal law for people to feed manatees on their own.

“We haven’t documented animals feeding on lettuce,” said Ron Mezich, head of the joint effort’s provisioning arm. “We know manatees will eat lettuce.”

During the winter months, hundreds of manatees congregate in warm water from natural springs and power plant discharges. Since this winter has been unusually mild in Florida so far, the animals are more scattered.

“They are moving forward, but they are yet to be suppressed by cold temperatures,” said Tom Reinert, FWC’s South Regional Director. “We expect that to happen.”

In addition to the feeding experiment, officials are working with a number of facilities to rehabilitate endangered manatees that are found alive. These include the Florida Zoo, the SeaWorld theme park, and the Marine Aquarium. Officials said there were 159 rescued manatees in 2021, some of which require long-term care and some are returned to the wild.

“Our facilities are at or close to capacity,” said Andy Garrett, chief of rescue and recovery. “These animals need care for a long time. This has been a huge amount of work to date.”

According to state statistics, there are currently at least 7,520 manatees in Florida waters. The slow-moving, round-tailed mammals have rebounded enough to list them as an endangered species, although a push to reinstate the endangered tag continues, given the number of starvation deaths.

Officials are using $8 million in state money on a number of projects aimed at restoring the manatee’s habitat and planting new seagrass beds, but this is a slow process and will not ultimately solve the problem. until the polluted water is rectified.

People can report any manatees that are in distress by calling a wildlife hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922). Other ways to help are by donating money through a state-sponsored fund or by purchasing a Save the Manatee vehicle license plate.

According to officials, this is better than feeding manatees individually, which does more harm than good as the animals will associate humans with food. People and manatees have struggled to coexist for decades.

“This is a very serious situation,” Reinert said. “Use your dollar and not a head of lettuce.”

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This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

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