Florida to feed starving manatees as their natural food is vanishing

Big and small manatee swim in blue water
Manatee with her baby, photo: Stamm Photo via Canva

Manatees in Florida will be hand-fed for the first time to save the animals from starving to death since their natural food is vanishing from the effects of water pollution.

Hand-feeding animals is a highly unusual move in conservation, where wildlife is usually left to look for food on their own to avoid becoming dependent on human assistance.

Carly Jones of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told news agency Reuters that details were being worked out but that the move to start feeding the marine animals had been approved.

Manatees, also known as sea cows, have been dying at a high rate in 2021. So far this year, 1,017 animals have been found dead. Usually, about 175 manatees die in Florida every year. The animals are considered threatened with fewer than 8,000 manatees left in Florida waters.

Scientists say they are starving to death because of nitrogen pollution from sewage and agricultural runoff, water that comes from farms. The nitrogen encourages algae growth, which kills coastal seagrass, the main food of manatees in winter.

During the trial feedings, wildlife experts could feed the sea cows romaine lettuce and cabbage, which is what manatees in captivity eat, marine biologist Patrick Rose said.

“The idea behind this experimental supplemental feeding … is that you can give them just enough more food that they can get them through this wintertime,” Rose, who leads the Save the Manatee Club in Florida, said. “The longer this is delayed, the less likely it can be successful.”

As soon as the timing is figured out, the trial feeding will begin, Jones said. Manatees can only be fed by wildlife officials as it remains illegal for the public to feed the animals in Florida.

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