Manatees, facing a crisis, will receive a little help: additional feeding

Hungry manatees are fairly easy to spot. You can see their ribs through their skin. They surface to breathe more than normal. Those w...


Hungry manatees are fairly easy to spot. You can see their ribs through their skin. They surface to breathe more than normal. Those who need it most seem imbalanced, listed on one side.

As manatee deaths rise and Florida rescue centers fill with manatees so malnourished they need medical intervention, federal and state wildlife officials are taking unprecedented action to l ‘species: They will provide food for hundreds of manatees in a key location in the eastern part of the state. coast in an urgent effort to get them through the winter.

“The consequences are too dire not to at least try,” said Patrick Rose, executive director of Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit group that supports the aquatic mammal.

It’s a tough decision, as scientists have found that sometimes feeding wild animals can do more harm than good. But Florida’s manatees, already threatened with extinction, have suffered catastrophic losses in the past year. Statewide, more than 1,000 people have died in 2021, a record high. (In 2016, approximately 8,800 of the mammals remained in Florida waters, according to state wildlife officers.)

A joint task force of state and federal officials has linked the increase in deaths to the loss of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon, a 156-mile estuary where manatees, also known as sea cows, seek hot water during the winter months.

Sea grass has been killed by algae blooms fueled largely by human waste and fertilizer runoff from lawns and farms, a problem that has been around for decades. As more people moved to the area and sanitation infrastructure aged, more waste was pouring into the estuary, said Duane De Freese, marine biologist and executive director of the national program for the estuary Indian River Lagoon.

“The manatee situation is a symptom,” said Dr De Freese. “In 2011, it looks like we’ve reached a tipping point.”

Since then, sea grasses have died year after year, he said, and are now down about 90%. As climate change results in more severe storms and sea level rise in the region, the problem is expected to worsen.

Feeding the manatees will be experimental and limited, said Mr Rose, an aquatic biologist who insisted that this happen. While wildlife officials are expected to announce details on Wednesday, he said the program would most likely involve products such as cabbage and lettuce, similar to what manatees are given to eat when taken captive for. rehabilitation.

“We hope they take it,” said Mr. Rose. “There is no guarantee.”

The effort involves risks. Collisions with boats also kill manatees, so getting them more accustomed to ships or people could be fatal. The feeding program should include measures to try to prevent such collisions from occurring and to clean up any uneaten product so that it does not feed algae growth.

Research focused on other species indicates that feeding wildlife, while well-intentioned, can disrupt migration patterns, spread disease and lead to a cascade of other unintended consequences. Short-term benefits may evaporate over time. A mule deer study, commissioned by Utah wildlife officials after the animals suffered during an extreme winter, found increased survival and better reproduction after two years in a group of deer given food, but no difference after five years, said Terry Messmer, a professor at Utah State University who helped lead the research. Deer that were given food persisted longer in their wintering grounds and suffered a surprising number of collisions with vehicles.

But humans are already drastically changing the ecosystems on which animals depend. The important thing, Dr Messmer said, is to proceed with caution and get to the root of the problem.

“It’s a good time to learn,” he said of the manatees. “It is unfortunate that we have too many of these teachable moments in our country and around the world.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Manatees, facing a crisis, will receive a little help: additional feeding
Manatees, facing a crisis, will receive a little help: additional feeding
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