This little guy was spotted on 04/22/22 munching mangroves in the east lagoon of the City of Vero Beach Municipal Marina
Manatees are large, gray aquatic mammals with bodies that taper to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers, with three to four nails on each flipper. Their head and face are wrinkled with whiskers on the snout. The manatee’s closest relatives are the elephant and the hyrax (a small, gopher-sized mammal). Manatees have been swimming in our waters for some time; 45 million-year-old fossils have been found in Florida, and these animals were well known among the prehistoric Indigenous peoples of eastern Central Florida, who used them in their diets and carved ceremonial pipes into the form of manatees. Our local West Indian manatees are related to the African manatee, the Amazonian manatee, the dugong, and Steller’s sea cow, which was hunted to extinction in 1768. The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs between 800 and 1,200 pounds.
Note: data is preliminary. As of February 17, 2022, there were 1100 confirmed carcasses recovered in 2021.
The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) stretches for 156 miles along Florida’s east central coast. There are more than 4,400 species of plants and animals — including manatees — that are found in the lagoon watershed. Unfortunately, as the direct result of human derelictions over many decades, the Indian River Lagoon has suffered a series of harmful algal blooms, leading to massive losses in seagrass coverage and, in turn, the recent deaths of a heart-rending number of manatees.
Manatees gathering at warm water locations such as powerplants along the IRL faced an additional threat during the 2020-2021 and 2021 – 2022 winter seasons because there was very little seagrass or vegetation for them to eat in the immediate vicinity. Traveling further for forage would mean deadly exposure to cold water, so the manatees ultimately choose to forgo feeding over dying from the cold. Between December 2020 and May 2021, there were 677 dead manatees reported on Florida’s east coast. In 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for manatees. A UME involves a significant die-off of any marine mammal population and demands immediate response.