Florida manatees are large, lovable aquatic mammals that grow to be about ten feet long and weigh around one thousand pounds.
But, this subspecies of the West Indian manatee is seriously struggling. In 2021 alone, over one thousand and one hundred Florida manatees perished due to challenges posed by pollution and climate change.
And this year, the death toll is already at six hundred and thirty-one due to the same causes.
Florida manatees are reliant on seagrass as their main food source. But, farm fertilizer and residential development pollution has been killing off swaths of the grass for decades.
This has forced many manatees to travel into colder climates in search of food. However, this trek is often a fatal one– as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported triple the number of manatee fatalities last year after a cold front hit the state.
Manatees cannot survive in the cold because, contrary to popular belief, manatees do not have insulating blubbers like seals or whales. In fact, they are only chubby and round because they have large digestive tracts in order to process their vegetarian diet.
In turn, many environmental experts have cited the manatee crisis as a gruesome choice of fate.
“Manatees are going to have to make a horrible life or death choice– between dying sooner by having to go out in the cold or staying warm and starving,” said Patrick Rose, the executive director of Save the Manatee Club.