TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Manatees continue to die in Florida due to the lack of seagrass on the Atlantic coast and continued low temperatures across the state.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), a preliminary total of 97 manatees have died as of Jan. 28. Numbers have not been updated by FWC since last week.

In a Wednesday update by FWC and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Joint Unified Command Spokesperson Tom Reinhert said deaths of manatees continue above the five year average.

“We’re continuing to receive calls about deceased manatees. We are trying to collect every one, do a quick necropsy on as many as we can. Find out why they died and look for signs of emaciation,” Reinhert said.

He said the trend is expected to continue into the “foreseeable future.”

An uptick in rescues continue as well, as critical care facilities in the state are packed with manatee patients. Reinhert said the Columbus Zoo recently took in four manatees to create more space at SeaWorld, as that facility works to open new pools to care for manatees.

The joint effort by FWC and USFWS at the temporary feeding site for manatees in Brevard County, the epicenter for starving manatees, continues to operate, with no current plans to expand.

Reinhert said there have been around 800 manatees at one time in the general feeding area and they are using anywhere between 1,500 to 3,000 pounds of lettuce per day, depending on how many manatees are seen at the site.

FWC has spent about $18,000 since the efforts to feed manatees began at the site in December. Officials said about $17,000 of that has been received through donations from to USFWS.

“I believe we’ll have to probably do this again next winter, because we’re not going to solve our seagrass woes in the Indian River Lagoon over the course of the next year, so this will probably continue and we’ll be back at it again next year,” he said.

Reinhert said it is too soon to tell if the efforts to feed manatees temporarily has had a positive effect on the mortality rate, and due to so many factors, it may never be known.

To report a sick, injured or dead manatee, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC, #FWC or *FWC.

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