In a first, wildlife officials have decided to provide food for the mammals, which have suffered catastrophic losses over the last year.

The starving manatees are easy enough to spot. You can see their ribs through their skin. They surface to breathe more than normal. Those most in need appear off balance, listing to one side, the New York Times reports.

As manatee deaths spike and Florida rescue centers fill up with manatees so malnourished that they need medical intervention, federal and state wildlife officials are taking an unprecedented step for the species: They will provide food for hundreds of manatees at a key location on the state’s east coast in an urgent effort to get them through the winter.

“The consequences are too dire not to at least give this a try,” said Patrick Rose, the executive director of Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit group that supports the aquatic mammal.

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