15% of Florida’s manatee population has died this year due to human activity

A record manatee die-off in Florida this year has become so dire that federal officials are taking a once unthinkable step — feeding the wild marine mammals to help them survive the winter.

More than 1,000 manatees, about 15% of the state’s total population, have died this year. But even with a supplemental feeding program — delivering heads of lettuce and cabbage as the manatees gather in their traditional warm-water wintering spots — biologists predict that hundreds more of the iconic species are likely to perish.

Manatees rely mainly on sea grass, beds of which have been smothered by pollutants along with outbreaks of toxic algae blooms intensified by climate change.

While boat strikes have ranked as the main cause of death among Florida manatees, starvation has outpaced boating accidents this year.

“You shouldn’t be able to see their bones. They’re supposed to be chubby, not emaciated.”