BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. — Manatees in Florida that are at risk of starvation are eating lettuce in a pilot program.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced the manatees began eating romaine lettuce Thursday.
In 2021, a record number of 1,101 manatees died.
Between 2016 and 2020, an average of 554 manatees died annually.
Last year, many of them starved due to water pollution killing the native seagrass that they eat.
Some of the animals show obvious signs of starvation, such as protruding ribs.
The feeding that started this week is taking place in the Indian River Lagoon, on Florida’s east coast.
While the manatees are being fed to prevent starvation, biologists are concerned it will change their migration behavior.
They worry artificial feeding spots will attract the manatees to only one place, instead of encouraging them to look for food.
Biologists are also concerned that romaine lettuce could introduce harmful nutrients to the Indian River Lagoon when it decomposes.
Between 25 and 35 manatees were seen near the feeding site Friday.
As of now, there are no plans to expand the feeding program beyond Brevard County, Florida.