Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The UME on Florida’s Atlantic coast began in December 2020. For the latest UME mortality information see Carcass examinations in the Atlantic Unusual Mortality Event. The latest statewide mortality totals can be found on the Manatee Mortality Statistics page.
The amount a manatee needs to eat depends on size and caloric needs, which are affected by reproductive status, water temperature, health, and other factors. Estimates generally range from about 4 to 9% of a manatee's body weight per day.
On average, a healthy adult manatee is nearly 10 feet long and 1,000 pounds, although some manatees are even larger. Safely capturing and transporting even a small number of manatees is a significant undertaking. The FWC and federally authorized Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership members have been leaders in developing techniques and specialized vessels, transportation vehicles, and tools that facilitate the capture of sick or injured manatees and, if needed, transporting them to permitted rehabilitation facilities. On a larger scale, such operations would prove challenging, especially given that manatees show loyalty to wintering sites and would likely seek a more familiar area after a relocation attempt.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) currently has no proposal to reclassify manatees. However, USFWS initiated a comprehensive ESA five-year status review in 2021 for the West Indian manatee, which includes the Florida and Antillean subspecies. The review will consider population trends and the status of the threats manatees face. Events such as the ongoing Florida manatee Unusual Mortality Event (UME) along Florida’s east coast raise serious conservation questions that biologists are working to answer. The answers developed will help inform future conservation reviews and decisions. If the science supports a future change in status, the USFWS will consider a public rulemaking process to pursue that change within the context of existing workload and staff availability. ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act manatee protections will continue regardless of their status as threatened or endangered.
Our best and most recent estimate of statewide manatee abundance comes from surveys conducted in 2015/2016. The best estimate is that there are between 7,520 and 10,280 manatees.
We are currently conducting an abundance survey for 2021/2022 and will have an updated population estimate in the coming year.
Many factors are involved in the decline of aquatic vegetation. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) has suffered significant loss of extensive seagrass beds since 2011. Seagrass, like many plants, requires sunlight to grow. Since 2011, persistence of algal blooms has resulted in reduced water clarity and light penetration which led to a dramatic reduction of seagrass. Seagrass is the primary food for manatees in these systems. The St. Johns River Water Management District provides extensive IRL information.
The UME investigation indicates the high number of emaciated manatees is due to a decline in food availability. Seagrass and macroalgae coverage in this region and specifically in the Indian River Lagoon has declined significantly.
A guiding principle for any proposal to supplement food for manatees is to provide a positive impact on manatees while avoiding harm to the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), including problems arising from adding nutrients. The small scale of the feeding trial minimizes the risk of detrimental, unintended consequences, but also provides some aid to manatees. The supplemental feeding trial only takes place during winter and efforts are made to collect any vegetation that is not eaten. Therefore, the estimated nutrients added through supplemental feeding would represent an insignificant contribution (<0.5%) to nutrient loading in the northern IRL. Water quality monitoring conducted during the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 seasons found no evidence in the collected data that the supplemental feeding trial affected water quality of the IRL.
Other herbivorous or omnivorous species that live in the same water bodies may indirectly benefit from the introduction of additional food types. However, great efforts are made to contain and remove food product that is not consumed by manatees to avoid any unintended behavioral or health consequences for species not being targeted.
Every attempt is made to recover all uneaten supplemental food from the water; therefore, we anticipate no significant impact to water quality and did not see any such impacts in the water quality data collected during the 2021/2022 or 2022/2023 supplemental feeding trial.
We record how much food is provided during the supplemental feeding trial. This aids in water quality monitoring to ensure we understand the amount of new nutrients potentially being introduced to the system and how much the manatees are eating, allowing us to adapt how much to put out during each feeding session. Water quality monitoring conducted adjacent to the site during the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 seasons found no evidence in the collected data that the supplemental feeding trial affected water quality of the IRL.
Any degradation in marine habitats is a worry for sea turtle conservation. The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is known to be an important foraging area for sea turtles, especially young green turtles. These turtles are herbivorous and do feed on seagrass. However, they can also feed on macroalgae and appear better able to tolerate the loss of seagrass in the IRL than manatees. The FWC has dedicated staff who are monitoring sea turtle health and mortality statewide. So far, staff have not seen evidence of any unusual mortality or health-related issues for sea turtles in the IRL. This may be because marine turtles are not restricted to warm water sites the way manatees are.
Report stranded, injured or dead sea turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Improving water clarity and light penetration is essential for the restoration of healthy seagrass communities. Numerous entities are actively working to improve water quality and restore the Indian River Lagoon estuary. The FWC implements aquatic habitat projects through collaborative engagement with stakeholders and partners around the State. Seagrass habitat enhancement and nursery infrastructure are important restoration projects being planned and implemented along Florida’s Atlantic coast. Some examples include: seagrass cultivation, living shoreline and oyster reef and clam restoration, and planting of native salt and freshwater species of aquatic vegetation.
In addition, as environmental conditions allow, it will be possible for agencies and their partners to effectively implement seagrass restoration in the Indian River Lagoon at a meaningful scale.
Numerous federal, state and local agencies along with universities are actively working to improve water quality and restore the Indian River Lagoon sanctuary. Some of these entities include the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, Brevard County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the St. Johns River Water Management District. The FWC also has a section that specializes in aquatic habitat restoration and collaborates with partners to develop and implement the restoration work.
In 2021, the Florida legislature provided $8 million for the 2021/2022 fiscal year to the FWC to help restore manatee access to springs and restore habitat in other areas important to manatees. In 2022, the Florida legislature provided $20 million to the FWC to distribute to partners via grants. Some of these funds are being used to restore manatee access to springs and provide habitat restoration in manatee concentrated areas.
Staff have worked with partners to identify high-priority projects to complete over the next several years. These projects are in various stages of execution. Some projects, like the Warm Mineral Springs restoration effort improving warm water habitat for manatees in Sarasota County are nearing completion, while others are being implemented over a period of several years. All projects are scheduled to be completed by 2025. Staff are working diligently to expedite this process so FWC-led restoration projects can be completed as quickly as possible with the greatest likelihood of successful outcomes.
Please note that there are other entities including the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, Brevard County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the St. Johns River Water Management District which are working on additional aquatic habitat restoration efforts.
The FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service jointly developed the Manatee Warm-Water Habitat Action Plan which includes a list of Florida’s natural and industrial warm-water sites and provides guidance for research and management of these habitats into the future.
Manatees seek out warm-water areas whenever the ambient water temperature drops below about 68 degrees F. Historically, manatees relied on freshwater springs and other natural areas for refuge in winter. During the 20th century, human activities significantly altered many of these natural refuges, for example, by blocking access to springs, reducing or eliminating spring flows, and greatly altering how water flows through the Everglades into coastal creeks. With the advent of power plants and other industrial sources of warm-water discharges, many manatees began using these discharge areas as winter refuges, often resulting in strong site fidelity to one or more sites. It is estimated that over half of the Florida manatee population uses industrial sources of warm water during winter, with many hundreds being found together at some sites during the coldest periods. As power plants reduce operations, the unmitigated loss of major warm-water refuges would likely result in increased manatee cold stress related health issues and mortality.
To address these concerns, the Manatee Warm-Water Habitat Action Plan has two distinct goals. The first, a short-term goal, is to maintain the current winter range and distribution of manatees in Florida. The second, a long-term, forward-looking goal, is to identify and maintain a network of sustainable warm-water refuges with minimal dependence on artificial sites.
A significant part of the overall manatee conservation effort, meeting the plan’s goals will go a long way in securing the Florida manatee’s future.
The FWC’s Aquatic Habitat Conservation and Restoration Section specializes in aquatic habitat restoration and collaborates with partners to develop and implement restoration work. Staff have worked with partners to identify high-priority projects to complete over the next several years. These projects are in various stages of execution.
Staff are working diligently to expedite this process so FWC-led restoration projects can be completed as quickly as possible with the greatest likelihood of successful outcomes.
Please note that there are other entities including the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, Brevard County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the St. Johns River Water Management District, which are working on additional aquatic habitat restoration efforts.
In 2022, the Florida legislature provided $20 million to the FWC to distribute to partners via grants. These funds are being used to enhance and expand the network of acute care facilities to treat injured and distressed manatees, restore manatee access to springs, provide habitat restoration in manatee concentrated areas, and provide manatee rescue and recovery efforts.
Federal, state, and local agencies implementing IRL restoration projects estimate that under favorable conditions, it could take about 15 to 20 years to fully restore the IRL estuary. The restoration process could take longer if stressful conditions that caused the initial loss of seagrass persist.
Numerous federal, state and local agencies and universities are actively working to improve water quality and restore the IRL estuary. More information about FWC-led restoration projects is available online. Other entities also engaged on aquatic habitat restoration efforts include the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, Brevard County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the St. Johns River Water Management District, and Florida Institute of Technology’s Indian River Lagoon Research Institute.
Responding to live manatees in need of rescue remains a top priority for the FWC and partners from the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership. FWC manatee biologists have been working hard to respond to public reports of distressed manatees and rescue manatees that need assistance (preliminary rescue summaries).
Due to a lack of forage after a decade of seagrass loss in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), many manatees are experiencing starvation, which has resulted in unprecedented mortality on the Atlantic coast since December 2020. While many manatees disperse to areas with available forage in the summer, they seek out warm water during winter and will have limited access to natural forage in the vicinity of major warm-water sites in central-east Florida. Due to the lack of seagrass in the IRL, affected manatees will either completely fast or consume elements with no or little nutritional value, including sand or other debris. The supplemental feeding aims to reduce the negative health impacts of prolonged starvation and possibly reduce the numbers of deaths and manatees needing rescue.
The effects of prolonged starvation can include organ damage, metabolic and reproductive shutdown, decreased mobility, and susceptibility to secondary infection and disease. See Carcass examinations in the Atlantic Unusual Mortality Event.
The vegetation offered was selected in consultation with manatee nutrition experts. Although there is always some adjustment period when switching to a different diet, manatees taking advantage of the supplemental feeding adapted to this without any major issues. Manatees in managed care sometimes have a transition period to get used to eating produce.
Any food offered meets the same quality standards of produce consumed by manatees in rehabilitation facilities and undergoes similar sanitation measures to avoid exposure to pathogens.
Since manatees will already be in close contact with one another for warm water, we do not anticipate the supplemental feeding will increase the risk of potential disease spread between manatees. Experts discussed the risks of parasite and disease transmission when manatees are gathered in feeding areas, but determined that at this time, supplemental feeding likely does not add any additional density concerns. Every winter, many manatees are in close contact with each other at warm-water sites, including natural springs and industrial thermal discharges. Transmissible diseases with severe health impacts have not been documented in Florida manatees to date. Because the health of many of these animals may be compromised from lack of food, we will continue to closely monitor and research health through clinical exams of rescued manatees brought to rehabilitation facilities and through necropsy of carcasses.
Supplemental feeding of manatees, when done by authorized personnel, does not ‘tame’ the animals. Many manatees are rescued and transported to permitted critical care facilities for treatment of injuries or illness each year, where they spend many months recovering and gaining weight. They are, of course, provided food during their time in managed care, in ways that minimize the association of people with food. After their release back into the wild, these manatees typically behave like normal, free-ranging manatees in terms of their foraging, movements, social behavior, and interactions with humans. However, it is important that the public not feed manatees because this could alter their behavior in a way that is harmful to the animals. Feeding of manatees, except by authorized personnel, can be considered harassment and is prohibited by state and federal law.
Authorized personnel provide supplemental food to manatees at a warm-water site already used by manatees for resting and regulating body temperature. There is no concern of ‘leading’ manatees into areas that they are not otherwise using. During the supplemental feeding trial, manatee behavior indicated they were responding to warm-water availability more than to food provisioning.
The supplemental feeding trial is conducted in consultation with experts in manatee health, nutrition and behavior in order to provide nutritional benefits to malnourished manatees in a controlled manner in an area where vessel access is already limited while minimizing the chances of negative behavioral consequences. During the supplemental feeding trial, manatee behavior indicated they were responding to warm-water availability more than to food provisioning. After the conclusion of the initial supplemental feeding trial last winter, manatees dispersed, following regular migration patterns.
However, biologists have serious concerns that manatees could be placed at risk if the general public starts to feed them. Feeding of manatees by unauthorized personnel can be harmful, considered harassment and is prohibited by state and federal law. If manatees are fed from boats, for example, they can learn to associate boats with food and approach the boats, risking propeller injuries or entanglement in fishing lines.
Authorized personnel temporarily conducting a short-term supplemental feeding trial in a controlled manner during times of seasonal stress should not alter the manatee’s long-term behavior and diet. Rescued manatees that spend months or even years in managed-care facilities such as zoos or aquariums, for instance, usually re-adapt quickly to the natural environment, including foraging on natural foods such as seagrass. Manatees taking advantage of supplemental food might reduce the frequency of their trips in search of scarce seagrass or other natural forage. This would have dual benefits because the manatees would expend less energy and have less exposure to cold water in winter, hence helping to maintain their body condition above a starvation level. Daily manatee counts during the supplemental feeding trial showed a rapid drop after feeding ceased, indicating manatees left the area quickly to return to natural food sources.
Manatees show considerable variation in annual migratory patterns. Many manatees migrate to southeast Florida for the winter and return north in the spring; many spend the winter in the northern Indian River Lagoon and migrate to northeast Florida and Georgia in the spring; and some are residents in an area year-round. Providing supplemental food by authorized personnel is unlikely to prevent migration because historically there was plenty of natural food (seagrass) in the northern Indian River Lagoon and manatees regularly migrated south for the winter anyway. After the conclusion of the initial supplemental feeding trial last winter, manatees dispersed, following regular migration patterns. FWC and USFWS staff will continue to monitor manatee behavior as part of the supplemental feeding trial.
Behavioral effects of supplemental feeding may be of more concern for calves than for mature manatees, as the calves are learning about locations of foraging and other habitats. However, it is highly unlikely that the calves would become dependent on humans for food in this situation because the supplemental feeding is planned to be temporary. Also, because the supplemental feeding trial only occurs during winter, the mother-calf pairs will forage naturally during most of the year, providing plenty of opportunities for calves to learn foraging areas and vegetation types.
If manatees were supplementally fed year-round, that would likely have adverse behavioral outcomes. Therefore, supplemental feeding trials are only done over a specific, short term (e.g., winter season), so that manatees can return to normal foraging and movements once the weather is warm enough for them to leave the vicinity of warm-water sites. During the supplemental feeding trial, manatees used the warm water site as normal then moved back into the northern Indian River Lagoon and other locations once temperatures warmed. In addition, authorized personnel place food in the water in a way that reduces the chances of manatees directly associating humans with food. We have learned from our past efforts and will adapt any future efforts accordingly.
Manatees are herbivores and feed on a variety of submerged, emergent, and floating plants. Manatees are known to consume all species of seagrass found in Florida, including Manatee grass, Turtle grass, Shoal grass, and others. Some common freshwater plants manatees are known to eat include Eelgrass and Coontail along with exotic species like water hyacinth and Hydrilla.
The amount a manatee needs to eat depends on size and caloric needs, which are affected by reproductive status, water temperature, health and other factors. Estimates generally range from about 4 to 9% of a manatee's body weight per day.
Feeding manatees can be considered harassment and is prohibited by state and federal law, but due to the Unusual Mortality Event designation there are emergency exceptions that allow for FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to provide food and/or water to animals impacted by the emergency declaration. While supplemental feeding of wildlife often does more harm than good when not performed in a controlled manner by species experts, feeding by authorized personnel for conservation purposes has been shown to primarily have positive effects on wildlife health, which is why we are taking this action to help the manatees affected by the lack of natural food. We are undertaking an adaptive management action in response to the manatee die-off precipitated by the collapse of the seagrass-based ecosystem in the Indian River Lagoon, as well as declines of aquatic vegetation elsewhere along the east coast. The goals of these limited, small-scale trials are two-fold: 1) to reduce manatee mortality and 2) to reduce the number of animals in need of rescue, allowing the limited space in permitted critical care facilities to remain open for animals needing rehabilitation for other reasons.
While animals in zoos and aquariums may be fed a variety of food items, manatee health experts have concluded leafy greens are likely the best option for this limited trial to provide nutritional value, help with hydration, and have the least potential negative health impacts for wild populations. Romaine lettuce, one of the primary items provided during the trials, provides a high-energy diet that has good amounts of protein, fat and digestible carbohydrates.
To obtain the produce for the feeding trial, we work with local farms, grocery chains and food distributors where the source, safety and quality of the produce is known.
Neither native nor non-native aquatic vegetation are used in this effort. There are significant legal and logistical challenges with harvesting and transporting native and non-native aquatic vegetation. Harvesting and transporting aquatic vegetation at scale is very expensive and vegetation quality post-harvesting/transporting is diminished due to damage from harvesting equipment, loading and offloading methods, and/or compression during transport. There is also the potential for sediment and other organisms (e.g., algae, bacteria, invertebrates) to be gathered along with the plant material, thus requiring cleaning of the vegetation to avoid added nutrients and turbidity to the Indian River Lagoon. .
We utilize numerous sources for suitable food, including local farms, grocery chains, and food distributors. We work closely with the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership and some Florida zoos to ensure the supplemental feeding trial did not impact their ability to properly feed animals in their care.
Commercial food types obtained for supplemental feeding efforts are sourced from agricultural productions operating under USDA standards for human consumption.
Supplemental feeding efforts do not target individual manatees. Our focus is to support the general group of manatees most affected by the absence of forage in the Indian River Lagoon. Any manatees that show obvious signs of distress related to starvation or other causes are the focus for rescue efforts to receive treatment at critical care rehabilitation facilities.
The supplemental feeding trial was targeted and adaptable depending on the number of animals that showed up at the Temporary Field Response Station and their response to the food provided. The daily number of manatees observed feeding varied throughout the season and between winters, but it was not possible to single out specific manatees for feeding or to track how much any specific manatee consumed per day or over the winter season.
The intent of this pilot project was to conduct a short-term trial to provide a portion of the daily food needs for a relatively small number of manatees initially and adapt going forward. Feeding occurs in a group setting with manatees coming and going throughout. It was not possible to single out specific manatees or to track how much any individual manatee consumed per day or over the winter season. The total amount of produce provided to manatees during the 2021/2022 season was 201,727 pounds and for the 2022-2023 season, the total was 399,339 pounds.
On both the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, waters can cool rapidly during the winter, exacerbating the Atlantic Coast Unusual Manatee Mortality Event and other manatee mortality causes. The USFWS and the FWC are leading a team of both governmental and private entities in a coordinated effort aimed to reduce the magnitude of the various immediate impacts to manatees. The Unified Incident Command System is a standardized approach to the command, control and coordination of emergency response that provides a common hierarchy which enhances the effectiveness of those responding. Due to the shared responsibility, a Unified Command is an optimal approach.
Some objectives include:
- Ensure responder and public safety by incorporating the appropriate risk management process in all actions.
- Minimize overall mortality of manatees as well as mitigating the effects of dead animals on the ecosystem.
- Maintain a Unified Command to coordinate management and response activities with the FWC and recognize their role as co-authority on manatee matters.
- As needed, provide management support, coordination, and resources for actions that aid impacted manatees.
- Provide enhanced support to existing efforts and partnerships.
- Ensure compliance with existing regulations.
- Communicate timely and coordinated information to stakeholders, cooperators, and the public about current incident and response status.
A UME declaration means that the event is unexpected and involves a significant die-off of a marine mammal population and requires immediate response. Investigating these events is key to understanding the cause, understanding potential impacts on the population as well as developing conservation measures that protect the species affected and the marine environment where the UME is taking place.
Florida has invested over $2 million annually for manatee conservation.
FWC staff respond to public reports of dead or distressed manatees. You can reach staff by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone or text 847411 with keyword “FWC,” followed by the city and/or county and any information. FWC staff and partners continue to prioritize response to manatees in distress. The FWC coordinates manatee rescue operations and transports manatees as needed to critical care facilities. The FWC and collaborators are working with critical care facilities to get a better understanding of conditions and health concerns in manatees rescued from the Atlantic coast region. Manatee Rescue Information
FWC staff respond to carcass reports to collect data that will provide insight into the high level of mortality along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. FWC staff verify and record the location of all reported manatee carcasses. Depending on the condition and current circumstances, staff collect biological information and samples, and may perform a necropsy to determine cause of death and collect tissue samples for health research. Carcasses may be left in secluded areas to decompose naturally.
FWC staff monitor impacts of large-scale mortality events of the manatee population by assessing multiple paths of information including adult survival rates and reproduction that help improve our understanding of population dynamics. As with all species, future resiliency is associated with population size and distribution, growth rate, health and habitat quality. Together these factors will impact the ability of manatees to cope with future changes and are the focus of conservation work.
During the winter of 2021/2022 and 2022/2023, staff conducted a targeted, supplemental feeding trial for manatees impacted by the UME at the Temporary Field Response Station located at Florida Power & Light’s Cape Canaveral Energy Center in Brevard County.
Numerous federal, state and local agencies, along with universities, are actively working to improve water quality and restore the Indian River Lagoon. The FWC also has a section that specializes in aquatic habitat restoration and who collaborate with partners to develop and implement the restoration work. In June of 2021, the Florida legislature provided $8 million for the 2021/2022 fiscal year to the FWC to help restore manatee access to springs and restore habitat in other areas important to manatees. More funding was provided to the FWC in June of 2022 for this purpose and to support manatee rehabilitation efforts. These projects are in various stages of implementation.
The FWC has held multiple workshops with numerous organizations and agencies discussing various aquatic habitat restoration efforts and other UME related actions. The details from the workshops provide FWC and USFWS staff with a more complete picture of some of the potential work being planned for the IRL and surrounding areas and with which partners to engage.
The general area targeted for supplemental feeding is the northern Indian River Lagoon, where the highest concentration of manatee carcasses has been found during the ongoing UME. Many thin manatees have been sighted in this region over the past year. Manatees show strong site loyalty, often returning to the same warm-water refuges year after year. Several potential sites that manatees regularly use in this region were evaluated in terms of current manatee use, likelihood that manatees will find the sites, quality of warm-water habitat, level of disturbance, existing protections, ease of access for logistics, security and other factors. After considering these factors, the selected site best met staff criteria.
Minimizing human interaction with manatees during the supplemental feeding trial is a top priority. USFWS and FWC staff with knowledge of manatee biology, behavior and health issues conduct the feeding. Food is delivered to the site and stored in refrigerated trailers. The feeding site at the Temporary Field Response Station is relatively small and in proximity to a known warm water aggregation site. Public access to the site is prohibited.
A Temporary Field Response Station (TFRS) was established at FPL’s Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center under the Unified Command framework. The TFRS allows for various manatee related operations to take place, such as manatee rescues, carcass recovery, limited field health assessment and supplemental feeding and associated monitoring.
A no-entry zone is in effect. In past winters, manatees regularly gathered at this location, so it is reasonable to expect that they will do so again this year. The No Entry Zone protects manatees from harm and disturbance within this designated warm-water area, and also protects manatees during response operations associated with a manatee Unusual Mortality Event.
The 2021/2022 winter season supplemental feeding trial ended on March 31, 2022, and the 2022/2023 season ended on March 17, 2023, as manatees began to disperse from the warm-water sites.
Supplemental feeding of manatees cannot prevent all manatee mortality due to the ongoing lack of forage available in the Indian River Lagoon. The expectation is that a limited, small-scale effort could provide sufficient food to keep the body condition of some manatees above starvation level until they disperse from their winter warm water sites in the spring to find food in other areas and reduce the need for rescues
The small-scale, supplemental feeding trial in the winters of 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 will help guide any future supplemental feeding considerations.
Our focus is to support the general group of manatees most affected by the absence of forage in the Indian River Lagoon. Supplemental feeding aims to reduce the negative health impacts of prolonged starvation and reduce the number of deaths and manatees needing rescue. Based on the food consumed, our collective efforts were successful. However, it is impossible to single out specific manatees or track how much any individual manatee consumed per day or over the winter season. Thus, quantifying the extent of trial success is not possible.
That said, we do note that this past winter (December 1, 2022, through March 31, 2023, the third winter since the onset of the UME), the number of verified carcasses on the Atlantic coast and cases of primary starvation were much lower than the previous two winters, despite significant cold weather stressors occurring in late December and early January. A small number of manatees were examined prior to last winter and their overall body condition had improved compared to the previous two years. There are a variety of factors that may have contributed to more manatees being in better shape this past winter including the temporary feeding trial and some limited seagrass recovery. However, seagrass in the IRL remains very low and persistent effects on manatees will continue until this ecosystem exhibits significant recovery. Concern remains for the long-term impact on manatee health and reproduction in this region due to the UME.
Throughout the warmer months, manatees travel to natural feeding areas, typically ranging north along the Atlantic coast to the Carolinas and do not require any supplemental feeding. With the onset of winter, manatees must migrate to known warm-water sites, such as areas in the Indian River Lagoon, because they are not able to withstand cooler water temperatures for extended periods. Due to the current lack of available forage within the Indian River Lagoon, authorized personnel provide supplemental food for manatees as part of a temporary feeding trial. The goal of this effort is to reduce mortality due to starvation and decrease the number of manatees that need to be rescued and rehabilitated.
How can I help?
If you see a dead, sick, orphaned, or injured manatee, please report it to the FWC so our staff can assess and respond as appropriate.
To reach us or report a violation, the public can:
- Download the iPhone or Android “FWC Wildlife Alert” app from your phone’s app store.
- Send a text to 847411 (Tip411) with keyword “FWC” followed by the location and any information you can about the violation.
- Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.
- Submit a tip online at myfwc.com/WildlifeAlert.
Trial efforts are carefully controlled in order to minimize negative impacts to the habitat or other wildlife. The vegetation offered by government officials is carefully selected in consultation with manatee nutrition experts. Well-meaning citizens providing random food to manatees can lead to health complications. Feeding manatees can be considered harassment and is prohibited by state and federal law, but due to the Unusual Mortality Event designation there are emergency exceptions that allow for FWC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff to provide food and/or water to animals impacted by the ongoing UME.
No. While we appreciate the desire to assist, we cannot accept individual food donations or food donations not acquired or vetted through our quality control processes. We work with local farms, grocery chains, and food distributors where the source, safety, and quality of the produce is known. We are able to find sufficient supplemental feeding materials through these avenues.
There are a variety of other ways that people can help manatees. You can donate to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida to help with produce donations. In addition. there are many reputable organizations that could use assistance with manatee-related conservation efforts, such as members of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership. You can also buy a manatee license plate or donate $5 for a manatee decal.
- There are many reputable organizations that could use assistance with manatee-related conservation efforts, such as members of the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership and the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida.
- The plate you buy matters! You can help support FWC manatee rescues and research. Next time you renew your tag, consider a “Save the Manatee” license plate! Plates are available at your local Tax Collector's office.
- Donate $5 for a manatee decal, available from local tax collectors’ offices.
- Improve Water Quality
- Eliminate the use of lawn chemicals (e.g., fertilizer, pesticide)
- Pick up dog waste
- Don’t blow leaves and grass clippings into the street or gutters; leave them on your lawn
- Wash your car on the grass or use a commercial car wash
- Switch from septic systems to municipal sewer
- Update and repair septic systems if municipal sewer is unavailable
- Plant a Florida native yard
- Participate in living shoreline restoration of oysters and mangroves