Concerned wildlife officials have launched a rescue mission to save manatees after reports of mass deaths – the huge number has soared to over 500 this year
Hundreds of manatees have been reported dead, sparking fears among wildlife officials following the bizarre deaths.
A rescue mission has been launched in response to the record number of deaths, which has already risen to 575 this year.
State and federal officials want to double rescue and rehabilitation capacity before manatees congregate in warm waters during the winter.
The deaths have been linked primarily to malnutrition, however more than 80 are currently being treated for starvation and boat crash-related injuries.
On Wednesday (June 15), experts said conferences were underway to discuss the need to accommodate growing numbers of sick manatees “in the coming years”.
They confirmed they are still setting up gear for an enhanced response when the mammals return to winter, News4Jax reports.
Terri Calleson, a biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said 89 manatees are being cared for at facilities across the state.
“I’d really like to see … almost double that if we can muster it,” he said.
“A lot of that depends on how critical (the condition) of the animals is.
“A critical animal that needs 24/7 care can really tie up an entire pool until the animal reaches a point where it’s stable.”
Experts have warned people to keep an eye out for manatees when boating on vacation.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Fish and Wildlife Service have previously fed lettuce to manatees after they starved to death due to low water quality and algal blooms that had depleted seagrass beds.
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Officials said they may have to try the unusual method again with manatees congregating in East Coast waters next winter.
Tom Reinert of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission commented: “Animals that have now made it through two winters of scarce food resources will still be stressed.
“I expect potentially even higher deaths than normal next winter.”
Agencies have been reported to be working with several organizations, including Seaworld and Walt Disney, to expand rehabilitation efforts.
“That’s really what it takes,” Calleson added. “When you’re dealing with 10,000-pound animals, it really takes a whole village to try to handle, care for and treat these animals.”