Florida’s beloved “sea cows” shouldn’t have to eat lettuce. Yet here we are.
By Benji Jones | @BenjiSJones Feb 8, 2022, 12:40pm EST (vox.com)
Heads of romaine lettuce might seem like empty calories for starving “sea cows” that weigh 1,000 pounds. But for Florida’s manatees, they’re just what the vet ordered.
In parts of eastern Florida, seagrass — the primary food source for these hulking marine mammals — is disappearing. So for the first time in history, state officials have started feeding manatees huge quantities of leafy greens. A single manatee can crunch its way through about 100 pounds of lettuce in a single day.
Last year, Florida lost a record 1,100 manatees, or more than 12 percent of its total population. And more than 130 manatees have died already in 2022, according to the nonprofit Save the Manatee Club, which is far above average for this time of year. The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the vulnerable West Indian manatee.
“It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Michael Walsh, a professor of aquatic animal health at the University of Florida. Manatee rehab centers across the state are now overrun, as more and more of the animals come in with visible signs of starvation — flat undersides, a loss of neck fat, and even exposed ribs, Walsh said.