FWC investigating after more than 1K manatees died this year

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they are investigating a high number of manatee deaths throughout the state. They are also responding to several rescues along the Atlantic coast of Florida.

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According to the FWC, more than 1,000 manatees have died this year in Florida.

FWC said the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events has confirmed the manatee mortalities have met the criteria to be an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared it an UME.

READ: Florida tops 1,000 manatee deaths in grim single-year record

FWC said it will explore both short- and long-term and small- and large-scale response options, including aquatic habitat restoration.

They said environmental conditions in portions of the Indian River Lagoon remain a concern.

READ: Wildlife officials brainstorming how to prevent record-number manatee deaths

A reduction in food availability, seagrass, is the primary factor, according to FWC.

Manatees were listed as an endangered species beginning in 1966, but their status was changed to threatened in 2017, the AP reported.

“Manatees are in serious trouble,” ZooTampa at Lowry Park, one of four main manatee critical care centers in Florida, said in a statement Wednesday. “The loss of more than 1,000 manatees this year is deeply concerning and will have serious repercussions for years to come.”

READ: It’s Manatee Awareness Month: Here’s how you can help

Here are ways you can help manatees, according to FWC.

  • Call FWC’s Wildlife Alert toll-free number: 888-404-FWCC or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone if you see a sick, injured, dead or tagged manatee.
  • Boaters will find them easier to spot if they wear polarized sunglasses and keep a lookout for signs of manatees, such as the circular “footprints” they trace on the top of the water or their snouts sticking up out the water.
  • Look, but don’t touch manatees. Keep your distance when boating, even if you are steering a canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Be a good role model for others so that they learn how to watch and enjoy manatees without disturbing the animals.
  • The plate you buy matters; support FWC manatee rescues and research. Next time you renew your tag, consider a “Save the Manatee” license plate!
  • Show your support for manatee conservation by proudly displaying a manatee decal. These high-quality stickers feature original artwork and are available from your local Tax Collector’s office with a $5 donation.

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Katlyn Brieskorn, WFTV.com

Katlyn Brieskorn is a Digital Assignment Editor at WFTV. She joined Channel 9 in July 2019.