Wildlife officials brainstorming how to prevent record-number manatee deaths

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — The number of manatees that have died so far this year in Florida already tops any other year on record.

As of last week, 968 manatees have died in Florida.

>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<

State wildlife officials are working to protect other manatees from the same fate.

Many of this year’s manatee deaths happened from starvation during the first months of the year. And with winter approaching, state wildlife officials are looking for ways to help the threatened species avoid another “unusual mortality event.”

READ: DeSantis announces more than $114M to improve water quality in Florida

On Thursday, the director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, outlined a new budget request of nearly $7 million addressing habitat restoration, enhanced manatee rescue and mortality response, and an expansion of the state’s manatee critical care network.

“There are lots of discussions going on right now like how can we prevent some of these problems this winter,” said Dr. Martine De Wit of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.

READ: Volusia County looking to use technology to help Indian River Lagoon survive

The big focus is increasing FWC’s rescue capacity, which includes working with the Manatee Rehab Partnership to increase the number of rescues.

There have also been some conversations among state wildlife officials about feeding emaciated manatees in the wild and whether that might work.

READ: Lawmakers tour Indian River Lagoon surveying issues contributing to increased manatee deaths

“Providing food is a temporary solution, very short-term to maybe save some lives but in the end we need the habitat restored and that’s not going to happen overnight,” De Wit said.

Lawmakers will consider FWC’s budget request during the 2022 legislative session.

READ: S.C. attorney Alex Murdaugh charged with taking funds from housekeeper’s death settlement

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, click here to download the WFTV Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, WFTV.com

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.