The annual International Manatee Day serves as a reminder and opportunity to highlight the need for education, preservation, and protection of this species. The day is devoted to spreading awareness about the current difficulties manatees face, from boating accidents to pollution, and even climate change. Manatee populations in Florida are going through a myriad of environmental hardships, but there are many entities, including SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., that have stepped up to spearhead marine life conservation.
Manatees can weigh up to 3,600 pounds, rendering them rather easy to spot by boaters on the water’s surface. However, manatees spend most of their time under the surface, where they are more prone to move about undetected. Thus, chances of a boating-related accident remain heightened, especially in areas where human activity is high.
Advocates urge boaters to look out for the tell-tale signs of manatees, which include their snouts and tails, and to always follow the posted speed limit signs. Manatees have been struck by boat propellers and hulls, leaving permanent scarring, or adding to the already rising mortality rate of this species. In addition to being cautious, boaters can also designate a spotter on board to keep a lookout for manatees, particularly in shallow waters, where they prefer to feed.
An Ecosystem in Trouble
Within recent years, a heightened awareness regarding the correlation between the state of the environment and the decline of wildlife has been raised. The devastation to wildlife populations is widespread and often unanticipated, due to the lasting ripple effects of even the smallest shifts in natural ecosystems. This delicate balance shift is illustrated by the decline in manatee populations in Florida.
The eastern coast of Florida has witnessed a manatee mortality event in the first half of 2021, unlike any previously experienced. Experts partially attribute the deaths to poor environmental practices.
Sewage spills, polluted run-off, and fertilizers are building up in the waters, and it’s causing fragile marine ecosystems to crumble. Most notably, many manatee deaths have recently occurred in Florida’s Brevard County, where the excess pollution is prompting a biological collapse. It has led to 70 miles of grasslands that are now largely barren.
With seagrass no longer able to grow at a sustainable rate, manatees have not been able to get the nutrition they needed to survive. The consequences weren’t just deadly, they were also prolonged. 2021 has already seen nearly 900 deaths from starvation, leading many calves to be abandoned. A record high for the number of deaths in one year, and it’s only September. There are still four months left to go in 2021.
SeaWorld Fights Starvation: Efforts to Curb the Worst of Its Effects
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. is known as a leading theme park chain to many, but the company also spearheads numerous conservation initiatives. Leading conservation, animal husbandry, and rescue and rehabilitation efforts since its inception, the company dedicates vast time, effort, and resources to ongoing intervention. As the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission warns about the dangers of the upcoming winter, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. gets ready to ramp up its efforts for the remainder of 2021.
SeaWorld Orlando has long lent its support to various marine species. In July 2021, the SeaWorld Rescue Team nourished underweight rescued manatees, as part of a rigorous program to bring injured or malnourished manatees back to their proper weight range.
In the wild, manatees maintain a natural control over vegetation levels, and excrete nutrients back into the water to maintain a healthy ecosystem. As a species, manatees are integral to the health of waterways. Thus, the ability for this species to thrive creates a ripple effect on their direct environment, and beyond.
39,000 Animals Rescued by SeaWorld
Over the last five decades, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. has rescued over 39,000 animals. Whether they were injured, orphaned, or ill, the goal is always to rehabilitate and return them to the wild, when appropriate. In 2018, the company had a banner year when the SeaWorld Rescue Team was able to rescue 69 manatees and return 23 to the wild.
Whether the team needed to travel to a different state, relocate an animal to a nearby zoo, or collaborate with outside rescue organizations, the staff has remained committed to their goals of successful rescue and rehabilitation. Their mission is to ensure that all the marine life under their care has access to the resources needed to thrive.
SeaWorld’s 2018 efforts mirrored past projects in the Cooper River in South Carolina, where manatees were reluctant to resume their migration patterns based on the ample feeding grounds in the water. From 2015 to 2017, the SeaWorld Rescue Team implemented solutions that discouraged manatees from remaining in potentially threatening areas, so they could move to warmer waters.
Orphaned Manatee Calves Make Their Home at SeaWorld Orlando
More recently, in late August 2021, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. rescued two orphaned calves, rehabilitating them at the SeaWorld Orlando facility. Nik Ricci, a senior animal care specialist at SeaWorld, remarked that manatee orphans need round-the-clock attention. This high level of care renders calf rescues as some of the most labor-intensive rescue missions that the team undertakes.
The rescued manatee calves will need to grow before they can be released back into the wild. Until then, team members are feeding them every three hours for the next three months. Once they reach 600 pounds, they can go back to the Springs to join the rest of the herd.
Looking Forward: Celebrating International Manatee Day
Vice President of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., Jon Peterson, remarked that it is possible to turn back decades of conservation efforts in just a year or two. This is a disappointing reality, particularly considering how much progress companies like SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. have made over the last 50 years. Thus, the team remains vigilant about the importance of raising awareness, providing education, and maintaining rescue and rehabilitation efforts for manatees. On International Manatee Day, and every day in between, the SeaWorld Rescue Team remains on the front lines of manatee conservation, education, rescue, and rehabilitation.