Tag Archives: manatee

Florida is distributing tons of lettuce to save starving manatees

Lettuce might not seem like much for the massive sea cows that can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. But in Florida, that’s exactly what they need. In several parts of the state, seagrass, their main food source, is disappearing. So as a last ditch effort, state officials have started feeding manatees with lettuce. And it seems to be working.

Image credit: Flickr / US Geological Survey.

About 350 manatees are coming to eat the vegetables every day at a temporary field response station in Cape Canaveral as part of a program launched earlier this year by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The state officials distribute roughly 20,000 pounds of vegetation a week, mainly romaine and butter leaf lettuce.

“We’re making a difference. It gives us the greatest exposure to the greatest number of animals,” Ron Mezich of the Florida Commission said during an online news conference this week. “At this point in time, we have been successful. Manatees are eating the romaine. We are exposing a large number of animals to this food source.

Normally, wildlife experts ask people not to feed wild animals as they start to associate humans with food. In fact, it’s still a crime in Florida for a person to feed manatees on their own. However, this is an official program. While the pilot program takes place, officials are asking people not to feed manatees on their own and instead donate money and report any sick manatees.   

The government is also working with several facilities to rehabilitate distressed manatees that are found alive. These include zoos, marine aquariums, and the SeaWorld theme park in Florida. Over 150 manatees were rescued last year, some requiring lengthy care and others that were returned to the wild in a short time.

The big challenges for manatees

Over 1,000 manatees died in Florida last year, according to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This is much more than the 637 deaths recorded last year and well above the previous record of 830 in 2013. The problem doesn’t seem to be going away, with authorities expecting another bad year with more deaths to come.

This program is a temporary solution, but the problems manatees face in Florida are long-term.

“The cold hard fact is: Florida is at a water quality and climate crossroads, and manatees are our canary in the coal mine,” said J.P. Brooker, Florida director for the Ocean Conservancy environmental group, in an opinion piece. They are dying off in record numbers because we humans have made Florida waters inhospitable to them.”

The slow-moving manatees have long struggled to coexist with humans. While some of the deaths and injuries are due to boat strikes that is not the main problem. Polluted water runoff from agriculture and sewage is causing algae blooms in estuaries, which affect the seagrass that the manatees rely on. Climate change is making it worse.

To make it even more tricky, manatees are slow to reproduce. One calf is born every two to five years after manatees reach sexual maturity at the age of five. The animals were listed as endangered in 1996 and their status later changed to threatened in 2017. There’s now a push to restore the endangered label to get more attention.

There are about 7,500 manatees in Florida, according to the commission, in some cases concentrated in areas that are a big tourist attraction. One hot spot is the Indian River Lagoon, home to hundreds of animals. But parts of the lagoon are now choked with pollution and algae, which means seagrass can’t grow and manatees can’t eat.


Efforts ramp up to heal Florida’s manatees amid algal blood

As Florida counties issue states of emergency in response to red tide, researchers are trying new options to save manatees from its deadly effects.


Image credits U.S. Geological Survey / Flickr.

Algal blooms known as ‘red tide’ have been wreaking havoc along Florida’s coast for the past few months. These blooms — usually the product of several types of phytoplankton and dinoflagellates — in this case Karenia brevis — are quite deadly for other sea life. They can cause massive damage to fish and are toxic (potentially deadly) to sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals such as manatees.

In a bid to save the latter, researchers at the Florida International University (FIU), in coalition with Mote Marine Laboratory, are racing against the clock to neutralize the algae’s toxic output with a new treatment.

Red manatees

Red tides accounted for 10% of all manatee deaths over the last decade, the team writes. The current bloom event could push that figure in excess of 30%, however.

Finding those numbers unacceptable, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ECOHAB program offered a $428,000 grant to the FIU and Mote to improve veterinary care for rescued manatees affected by the Florida red tide.

Current treatments — which rely on anti-inflammatory compounds — just don’t cut it, the team explains. So the team aims to study cellular immune responses of the mammal to a wide range of antioxidant treatments. This new approach should help the manatees heal through the adverse effects of red tide. If it proves efficient with the manatees, the team explains, such treatment could be expanded to other species of marine wildlife “including dolphins, turtles, and birds”.

“The current approach is simply to give palliative care and wait for them to clear the toxin and get better,” explained Kathleen Rein, the FIU chemist that is leading the research team in tandem with colleague Cathy Walsh, a marine immunology expert at Mote’s labs.

The manatee, while hard-pressed, has had a couple of good years lately. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently advanced the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), which includes the Florida manatee, from ‘endangered’ status to ‘threatened’. The action came about a month after Florida officials said that for the third straight year, spotters counted more than 6,000 manatees.

The latest red wave in Florida, however, could undo all the progress the manatees have made — the bloom has claimed over 103 individuals so far, almost 18% of all manatee deaths in the area.

“The need for better treatment is underscored by the current, long-lasting bloom of Florida red tide and its intense impacts on Florida manatees,” Walsh said.

With the current red tide bloom being the worst the state has endured since 2005, the situation is critical. Conservationists are also worried about a possible loosening of regulations regarding species conservation under the current administration.


Newly imaged nebula looks like a manatee in space

The Very Large Array radio telescope network in New Mexico recently captured this amazing view of a 20,000 year old nebula that intriguing enough is shaped like a manatee – the famous and adorable sea cow native to the greater Gulf of Mexico – in its favorite position: floating on its back with its fins across its belly.


The nebula, initially named W50, was produced after a massive supernova exploded, but before the original star that formed it died, it “puffed out its outer gaseous layers, which now swirl in green-and-blue clouds around the dead hulk of the star, which has collapsed into a black hole,” according to the researchers. The nebula is actually one of the most massive the VLA has come across so far, spanning across  700 light years  and covering two degrees on the sky (the equivalent of four full moons).

The astronomers believe the crushed relic of the past star now feeds on gas from a companion star, forming a stream of gas around the black hole that eventually births a disk of matter. The cannibalized disk of matter and the black hole together for a powerful network of magnetic field lines which grabs charged particles from the disk and channels them outward in powerful jets. This makes W50 shine brightly in both radio and X-rays, and all the better for us viewers.

The name W50 is rather boring, so considering its uncanny resemblance, the nebula was named Manatee Nebula. Besides, since this gorgeous animals is currently threatened by extinction, the astronomers thought they could pitch in to raise awareness. The biggest risk manatees face are the deadly encounters with boat propellers that carve deep wounds causing intense amount of pains, which most of the time prove fatal. As the Florida coastline develops even further, the manatee is at ever greater peril.

“Manatees are endangered, in part because boat propellers often cut deep gashes into the herbivores’ sides, injuring or killing many manatees every year. The nebula, too, bears streaky scars carved out by particles in the two protruding jets emitting from the black hole at its core,” the researchers write.

The findings were published in the journal PLoS


The mole rat is unique among the mammal world because of its ability to grow multiple sets of teeth, much in the same manner sharks do. Their teeth aren't that petrifying, though.

The mole rat grows teeth similar to sharks

The mole rat is unique among the mammal world because of its ability to grow multiple sets of teeth, much in the same manner sharks do. Their teeth aren't that petrifying, though.

The mole rat is unique among the mammal world because of its ability to grow multiple sets of teeth, much in the same manner sharks do. Their teeth aren't that petrifying, though.

Humans, as well as most mammals, have only two sets of teeth to make with during their entire lifetime. However, a new research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which studied the dental structure of mole rats has shown that the species is an exception to this rule. In fact, they’re very much similar to sharks, which grow a new set of teeth regularly and change them like a conveyor belt.

In 1957, Stuart Landry first observed that the mole rat had more molars than the average rodent, however this particular fact never interested anyone enough to study the matter further – until now that is, after Helder Gomes Rodrigues from the University of Lyon made this remarkable discovery.

Apart from the mole rat, there are only four other mammals capable of changing their teeth regularly, namely three different manatee species and a pygmy-rock wallaby. Still, the mole rat is unique among mammals, in terms that it has a peculiar up and down movement of its teeth with concomitant rows of teeth sprouting. The other multiple tooth generating mammals first loose their old teeth and then grow a new set, similar to how regular mammals grow a new set after they lose their baby teeth.

X-ray synchrotron microtomographic 3D rendering of the upper dentition of a young mole rat. (c) PNAS

X-ray synchrotron microtomographic 3D rendering of the upper dentition of a young mole rat. (c) PNAS

For his research, Rodrigues analyzed 55 specimens and observed that in each one the back molars in the jaw of the rodents move forward, this although the old one hadn’t come out yet. The researchers saw that by the time the new molars finally reached the first ray, they displayed a very eroded structure from all the wear and tear.

The scientists then sought to find an explanation to this peculiar exception. The manatees and pygmy-rock wallaby have earned the ability to replace their teeth due to the hard elements in their die, however this is not the case with your typical soft plants eating mole rat. Instead, a viable evolutionary explination the researchers have come up with is that their unique ability is due to the fact they primarily dig with their front incisors, they grind things with their molars and swallow abrasive dust.