United States authorities are investigating an alarming increase in manatee deaths in Florida. Nearly 540 dead manatees were found between January 1 and March 19, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Usually, about 175 manatees die in Florida every year. Now, it’s almost three times that number in barely three months.
Many of these sea cows, as they are also called, have been found in a state of malnourishment along the central and southern stretch of Florida’s Atlantic coast.
“While the investigation is ongoing, initial assessments indicate the high number of emaciated manatees is likely due to a decline in food availability,” the FWC said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Seagrass and macro algae coverage in this region and specifically in the Indian River Lagoon has declined significantly,” they said.
Water pollution can cause too much algae blooms, which then hinder the sun from reaching the seagrass the manatees eat; the plants die, and the animals lose a food source.
In cold winter months, manatees are known to get together in large numbers in the shallow waters of rivers, looking for warmer temperatures. They depend on seagrass to survive during this time.
The current Florida manatee population numbers are around 7,500. Manatees were re-classified from an endangered species to a threatened species in May 2017. The change reduced the level of protection the mammals were entitled to.