An attempt to feed starving manatees appears to have failed so far, as the big marine mammals refuse to recognize floating lettuce as food.
State and federal wildlife officials undertook the unusual step of offering food to manatees last month after an unprecedented number of deaths last year, most from starvation. Polluted runoff from cities and farms was a major cause of the Indian River Lagoon’s loss of seagrass.
However, the manatees seem to have ignored the lettuce that was offered them by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Ron Mezich (leader of the imperiled species management section for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), spoke with reporters on Thursday.
He suggested that it is possible that they ate the lettuce when no one was looking, but so far there has not been any evidence of lettuce consumption.
” At this time, we haven’t documented animals foraging on lettuce,” he stated. To verify this, I will state that we are not always present at all locations. While we do sometimes return, not all of what we provide is there, we have not documented any animals eating it. “
A record 1,101 manatees died last year, most from starvation in the Indian River Lagoon area, according to the state wildlife commission. Last November state and federal officials set up a unified command to address the manatee deaths, increasing patrols beefing up rescue efforts for manatees in distress and setting up a system to offer them food.
Patrick Rose is the executive director of the Save the Manatee Club. He blames bureaucratic delays from the federal government for the program’s failures so far.
Although the state wildlife commission had wanted to begin the feeding program many months ago, he stated that the U.S. The Fish and Wildlife Service resisted the idea for several months. He said that if the federal government had acted sooner, the program would have been available in August so that they could pursue other options for feeding the animals.
” I can’t express how disappointed I am at the service’s late decision,” he stated. “So many options could have been explored and tried before we arrived at this point. “
The current program tries to feed them close to the intake zone at Florida Power & Light’s Cape Canaveral plant. The discharge zone of the Florida Power & Light plant at Cape Canaveral is home to a lot more manatees than it is on land. This would require more planning and more effort for feeding.
They could have tried different foods and established feeding operations in other places, he stated. Although he said he was “highly supportive” of the feeding program, he said the federal government‘s delays made it harder for it to succeed.
Chuck Underwood is the spokesperson for the U.S. The program was defended by Fish and Wildlife Service.
“Supplemental feeding of marine mammals in the wild has never been tried,” he said in an email. “There were many discussions and months of planning to make sure that this was beneficial, rather than harmful. “
Biologists had to assess the idea, evaluate sites, obtain food supplies, establish logistics and make sure everything complied with the law, he said.
” While the huge operational planning was in progress, federal and state agency leaders weighed the legal and policy implications of such a unique effort.” he stated. “Within a matter of days, the Joint Unified Command staff started executing their plan. Within days, they had set up the Temporary Respond Field Station at FPL’s Cape Canaveral Clean Energy Center. “
The warm winter thus far has allowed manatees to spread, which gave them more options to find food. As the weather cools in the coming days, officials said, the manatees will concentrate near warm water, such as near the discharge zones of power plants, making it easier to try to offer them food.
“This time is when manatees face extreme cold and are restricted in movement. They must stay close to warm water sites, and cannot venture outside to search for food,” explained Dr. Martine DeWit, a veterinarian who treats dead manatees.
” As we approach winter, it is a concern that many animals will enter the season in suboptimal conditions. We have already seen carcasses that had tissue atrophy and other signs of starvation. “
Mezich stated that they knew from the beginning that it might be difficult for them to eat the lettuce, and that many techniques were being tested.
” We started offering lettuce in a floating format,” he stated. “The animals don’t recognize it as a food source at this point.” This was not surprising to us. Some experts who spoke with us said that it is not unusual for animals in captivity to offer lettuce up until a week before they are taken. “
He stated that different methods have been tried and that they would eventually eat the lettuce.
“As we adapt, we are offering the lettuce in different forms, not only floating but in the water column, submerged,” he said. We offer it in different places, and we are continuing to adapt. We’re confident that we will eventually find the trigger that works.
(c)2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
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Attempt to feed manatees fails so far, but effort to hold off starvation will continue (2022, January 14)
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