Words by Smiley Team
Florida manatees, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, were one of the first animals to make the United States endangered animals list back in 1967. Around that time, their population was estimated at around 1000. As of 2019, that number sat around 5000, although that number may be as high as 8800 today.
That growth led to the Florida manatee being downgraded from endangered to threatened in 2017.
“While there is still more work to be done to fully recover manatee populations, particularly in the Caribbean, manatee numbers are increasing and we are actively working with partners to address threats,” said Jim Kurth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s acting director, in a 2017 statement.
Come 2022 and manatees are facing an even bigger threat.
In 2021, nearly 15% of the manatee population died from a whole host of reasons, but primarily due to food shortage as a result of pollution and the toxic algae bloom red tide killing the manatee’s main food source, seagrass.
In response, several organizations have taken action. One such organization, SeaWorld, has expanded its manatee rehabilitation program, adding five temporary pools in February 2022 to help with the growing demand for aid.
“The pools will enable existing manatees that are stabilized and ready for rehabilitation to be moved from critical care to the emergency pools, freeing up more space for new rescues,” said a spokesperson from SeaWorld Orlando.
According to SeaWorld, they have rescued and cared for 782 manatees have recently begun taking in as many as four manatees a week. SeaWorld also says it’s the only facility in Florida that can take in critically ill manatees.
Other efforts can be found around Florida, as Florida Power and Light, Florida’s largest electric utility company, has put forward $700,000 to establish a “temporary field response station” at its Cape Canaveral plant on the East coast. This feed station has been providing lettuce, cabbage, and other greens to manatees since Dec. 14.
The people working the station feed manatees from behind a camouflage tarp because they don’t want manatees to associate humans with food, a view widely shared in conservation circles.
And there's also the award-winning Save the Manatee Club, which looks to provide resources and coverage to the ongoing issue. Founded by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffet in 1981 the club has been a constant in manatee conservation.
DONATE: You can donate to Save the Manatee to help them continue their work.
ADOPT: Adopt a manatee, where funds go toward efforts to help protect manatees and their habitat.