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Florida Manatees Wined and Dined in Race to Save Their Lives

To prevent manatee extinction, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) plans to shower the sea cows with over 400,000 pounds of manatee ambrosia – that is, lettuce.

Credit: Lisa Hubbard, Cincinnati Zoo
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TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA — In 2021, an unprecedented 1,100 manatees died in Florida, a 58 percent jump from the previous year. To prevent extinction of the beloved aquatic mammals, FWC will continue administering life-saving lettuce, only this time… they’re doubling it.

“We’ve lost 25% of the entire manatee population in the past two years,” the president of the Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy, J.P. Booker, stated. He stressed the dire urgency of immediate action.


FWC wasted little time in their response. Beginning in December of 2021 they put their emergency feeding program into action, purchasing over $100,000 worth of romaine lettuce, and doling out 200,000 pounds of it over a three month period to the starving sea cows.

With guarded optimism it’s noted that manatee deaths decreased from 1,100 at the end of 2021, to 800 at the end of 2022. Though 800 deaths is not the brightest of numbers, it is a gradual yet marked improvement that FWC intends to continue this season.

This winter, manatees will receive a lavish treatment: Not only will FWC be providing them with romaine lettuce, but an assortment of butterleaf, greenleaf, and cabbage, in estimates of over 400,000 pounds–double last year’s amount!


Manatees are emblematic of the tropical Floridian waters, basking in their coastal warmth whilst feasting on their favorite snack: seagrass.

Indian River Lagoon, spanning Volusia County down to Palm Beach County, has been one of their preferred hangouts, with its 150-mile brackish waters once ripe with seagrass-galore.

Pollutants from a tripled human population and increasing algae blooms from agricultural discharge have killed off 95 percent of seagrasses in the Indian River Lagoon, cutting off the sea cows’ main food source.


Without food, the manatees lose their blubber – their built-in heat blanket.

Cold temperatures force them into warmer areas, such as the Indian River Lagoon. However, the lack of food results in their emaciated forms, ill-equipped to handle hunger or chilly waters. These factors contrive the recent rise in starvation and cold-stress deaths among the mammals.

With FWC’s massive manatee lettuce agenda, manatees need not starve nor lose their blubber, addressing both the starvation and cold-stress issues currently present.

Though not a permanent solution, there is hope on the Floridian horizon.