Herd of manatees swims close to shore at Miramar Beach in Florida

Those at one Florida beach had a very close encounter with several of the state's beloved sea cows.

On Thursday, a herd of manatees was swimming close to shore at Miramar Beach as seen in video captured by the South Walton Fire Department.

It was a welcoming sight considering the historic number of manatee deaths in Florida this year. The first eight months of 2021 exceeds the previous record of 830 manatee deaths, recorded in all of 2013. So far, 890 manatees died this year. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has declared it an unusual mortality event.

Manatees’ primary food source is seagrass. One of the main causes of manatee deaths in Florida is due to starvation because poor water quality has caused significant seagrass loss. Ride tide has also been a factor.

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The species has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. They were reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species in May 2017, however, a proposed bill would upgrade the West Indian manatee from "threatened" to "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

The new legislation was introduced by Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Rep. Darren Soto, of Kissimmee. That change in status would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to refocus their attention on manatee population rehabilitation. It would also allow for increased federal resources to be put toward manatee rehabilitation.

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In 2017, there were 6,000 manatees in Florida thanks to conservation efforts that helped grow the manatee population. In 2019, the manatee population had dropped to 5,733.