As manatees face unprecedented deaths, SeaWorld helps to rehabilitate them

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
As manatees fight for their lives, SeaWorld helps care for the injured gentle giants. (CREDIT: WINK News)

It’s been a record-breaking year for manatee deaths in Florida.

As manatees fight for their lives, SeaWorld helps care for the injured gentle giants.

From bottle service to an all-you-can-eat salad buffet, these are some of the steps taken to care for manatees at Orlando’s Sea World.

“This pool never is empty,” said Jon “JP” Peterson, vice president of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando. “It’s a sobering moment every time you look at it because the hope and the goal is someday we could say, ‘Oh, we don’t, we don’t have anything in this pool.’ Unfortunately, that’s not happening right now.”

While the team is constantly busy caring for manatees, this year is especially challenging.

“If you want to have a bad year, we’re multiplying it right now because we have red tide on the west coast,” Peterson said.

Couple that with what’s called an unusual mortality event, or UME, on Florida’s east coast and boat strikes and SeaWorld stays busy.

“Does anybody know what the root starvation of this UME is? Not exactly yet, other than we know there is a 70-mile stretch of grasslands that no longer have grass over in Brevard County,” Peterson said.

Teams are working to figure out what is causing the seagrass to die.

No seagrass means a lack of food for manatees. Some of those starving manatees end up at SeaWorld.

“This is our manatee holding one, which is a 30 by 30 critical care floor,” Peterson said. “It raises 14,000 pounds up and down this false bottom that you see. What you see in the background are actual critical care manatees that are being treated anywhere from once to four times a day right now.”

Groups including SeaWorld and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission make up the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership and the fear is this unusual mortality event will turn back the clock on years of conservation efforts.

Teams are also working to find suitable release spots for when the manatees are ready to be released.

“This UME has the ability to quickly take all the works of the last 20 years and get rid of it in a year and a half to two years,” Peterson said.

But there are things that can be done to help manatees thrive instead.

“Boating correctly. Listen, I boat all the time. Slow zones are not the best fun, but slow zones in the manatee areas are really important because one less manatee hit by a boat gives space for one more manatee who Mother Nature has put into a challenging spot,” Peterson said.



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