Officials said Wednesday that manatees have consumed almost all the 160,000 pounds (72,500 kgs) of lettuce at a warm water power plant site, where they congregate in cold months.
Scott Calleson, U.S. said that "they've eaten everything we've put forth." Fish and Wildlife Service.
Calleson stated that the total amount of lettuce will likely reach 200,000 pounds (90.700 kilograms) by the end of the operation in a few more weeks. This was almost all funded by donations received from individuals across the country.
The manatees didn't eat lettuce in December, when the program was unprecedented. Officials claim that the manatees have been eating the lettuce since Jan. 20, after the unprecedented program began in December. This was largely because more than 1,100 manatees died from starvation, which is the worst year ever recorded for this threatened species.
About 420 manatee deaths were confirmed as of March 11, which is still alarmingly high. The warm spring weather is continuing to heat up and manatees are starting to leave the feeding site in search of natural food elsewhere.
Tom Reinert (South Regional Director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission) stated that manatees are moving to warmer weather areas, which is good news.
Officials say that the manatee feeding program was successful, but it is still illegal for anyone to feed them on their own.
Florida waters are home to approximately 7,500 manatees (also known as sea cows). Although they are federally listed as a threatened species there are attempts to increase their endangered status.
Many animals are facing starvation as their favorite seagrass food is disappearing because of persistent water pollution from agricultural and sewage runoff, among other sources. There are ongoing efforts to restore seagrass beds along the state's East Coast, where the problem is the most severe.
Officials have stated that it will take more effort and time to address long-term water quality and pollution issues.
There is still optimism that next year's effort will be easier and more efficient, with lessons learned from the first year.
Jon Wallace, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
People still see sick and dead manatees in Florida waters. They call the FWC hotline to report them. Many manatees have been rescued by SeaWorld Orlando. The company announced Tuesday that it would be expanding its manatee facility.
SeaWorld announced that it will complete the three-pool, 200,000 gallon (7577,000-liter) complex by July. It also has a new lift floor and a pool with an existing pool. SeaWorld claims it can care for 60 manatees in one go once the project is complete. This will make it the largest U.S. facility.
Jon Peterson, vice-president of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando, who is closely involved in the rescue effort, stated that "that larger space, combined with our sizable and highly skilled manatee care staff means that we can mobilize quickly to help save these animals' lives and help save them from extinction."
Other aquariums and zoos also care for manatees, such as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium announced that it will build new manatee rehabilitation pool and invest in a $10,000,000 manatee hospital. This was funded by donations.
If you see a manatee that is in distress or has died, please call FWC's wildlife hotline at (888)404-3922.