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Unusual Mortality Event of manatees in Florida ongoing, response continues

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TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are continuing to monitor the ongoing Unusual Mortality Event (UME) in Florida’s manatees on the state’s east coast, as waters continue to warm moving forward into the summer.

As of May 20, a total of 559 manatees have died in Florida, according to preliminary data released by FWC. Of those 559 deaths, only 31 of the animals have been killed by watercraft.

FWC notes in its data, reported numbers between 2020-2022 differ from previous years, as a larger numbers of carcasses were not fully necropsied and FWC is reporting a decrease in known cause, so numbers may not be a true change.

Now, USFWS and FWC are focusing on manatee rescue and rehabilitation, carcass recovery and necropsy, UME investigation, the partnership with other organizations through the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership and enhancing external communications.

Water quality samples were completed at the UME response station, located at the Florida Power & Light facility located in Brevard County, where officials were previously feeding manatees over the winter.

“Our assessment of the sampling data indicates the temporary feeding trial had no appreciable effects on Indian River Lagoon water quality,” FWC wrote in a public update.

FWC noted that similar to last year, the number of reported dead manatee carcasses has decreased since late spring, as manatees are no longer experiencing additional cold stress and have moved into areas where food is more available.

“The FWC continues to document findings of chronic malnutrition in manatees and that is expected to persist as long as there is a seagrass shortage in the Indian River Lagoon,” FWC said.

Last fiscal year, the Florida legislature provided an additional $8 million to FWC to restore manatees’ access to springs and habitat restoration.

Seven projects were identified for that $8 million, including some related to seagrass recovery, including some direct seagrass planting.

Additional health threats, like boat-strike injuries, remain a concern during the summer months.

FWC is continuing to enhance patrols and response in areas with the highest concentration of manatees.

It noted the investigation into the UME is ongoing and being evaluated by multiple response, research and monitoring efforts.

Sick, injured or dead manatees should be reported to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. FWC notes that individuals should never push a stranded marine mammal back into the water.

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