Starving manatees rely on deliveries of 3,000 pounds of lettuce a day to survive

Florida wildlife officials are doing their best to pump the brakes on the manatee's quickening death rate

By Kelly McClure

Published February 16, 2022 8:44PM (EST)


Florida wildlife officials are implementing a new feeding program at a temporary field response station in Cape Canaveral to prevent manatees from starving. The program, which was put into practice in early 2022, includes direct lettuce deliveries to the manatees upwards of 3,000 pounds a day, and 20,000 pounds a week.

The vegetation deliveries consist of primarily romaine and butter leaf lettuce, according to CNN, and officials hope that the easy access to food will lessen the animal's quickening mortality rate. More than 1,000 Florida manatees died last year, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and they haven't seen numbers like those in decades.

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"At this point in time, we have been successful. Manatees are eating the romaine," said Ron Mezich of the FWC. "We are exposing [a] large amount of animals to this food source and we are making a difference."

In 2021 the FWC responded to the alarming amount of manatee deaths in the area by issuing a press release directly stating their plan of action. 

"We understand the importance of a timely response. Our agencies and Unified Command partners carefully considered all aspects of a short-term feeding trial," said Shannon Estenoz, Department of the Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks in the press release. "It is critical we help manatees in the short term with actions that are compatible with their long-term well-being and resilience." 

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The release detailed the steps they intend to make, many of which are already underway, including efforts "to reduce manatee mortality and to reduce the number of animals in need of rescue, allowing the limited space in permitted critical care facilities to remain open for animals needing rehabilitation for other reasons."

Officials point towards "the loss of seagrass associated with poor water quality within the Indian River Lagoon" as being one of the main contributing factors of manatee deaths in these extreme numbers. And while they state that they know their recent efforts won't eradicate those deaths, they hope to slow them.

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Kelly McClure

Kelly McClure is a journalist and fiction writer who lives in New Orleans. She is Salon's Nights and Weekends editor, and her work has been featured in Vulture, The A.V. Club, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, Nylon, Vice, and elsewhere. She is the author of Something is Always Happening Somewhere

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Aggregate Florida Manatee Wildlife