Cold Temperatures Take a Tragic Toll on Manatees

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Cold Temperatures Take a
Tragic Toll on Manatees

By Dr. Katie Tripp, Save the Manatee Club
April 2010

The events of this winter highlight the vulnerability of our state’s manatee population, and reinforce the importance of safeguarding winter habitat and minimizing human-related threats to this species.

Although spring has sprung in Florida, and temperatures are slowly starting to warm, tragically, manatees are still being affected by the lingering cold temperatures experienced this winter.

Through March 26th, 448 manatees have been found dead in Florida waters, surpassing the record of 429 deaths set throughout all of 2009. Of these, more than 220 have been attributed to cold stress, which shattered the previous cold stress record of 56 deaths set in 2009. More than 170 deaths have been labeled as undetermined / unrecovered, but many were likely caused by cold stress because of their location and timing. Based on an aerial count of 5,076 manatees obtained in January 2010 (which is used as a minimum population count), this year’s deaths represent a loss of up to 8.5% of the entire state’s population, in just the first 11 weeks of the year.

In addition to those manatees that died from cold stress, a number have been rescued. Through March 26th, there have been over 50 manatee rescues in Florida. Of these, the majority were related in some way to the cold weather. With all of these rescues, Florida’s three critical care facilities are at or near capacity. Four stable manatees have been transferred from critical care facilities to the medical pool at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to create more space for additional cold-related and other rescued manatees at the critical care facilities. Save the Manatee Club is providing up to $24,000 to heat the pool and fund veterinary care for these rehabilitating manatees for up to two months. With the Florida legislature in session, we will be fighting to maintain funding for the critical care program that helps finance these important manatee rescues.

“We commend the staff at these critical care facilities, as well as the rescue staff at the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for their heroic efforts on behalf of these manatees,” said Patrick Rose, who is an aquatic biologist and the Executive Director of the Club. “During this crisis, the entire manatee community has worked to the point of exhaustion to render desperately needed assistance.”

Even though boating conditions have been less than ideal this winter, 13 manatees have been killed by boats in Florida through March 19th. As always, we have sought the help of Florida’s boaters in protecting manatees. Using various media outlets, we asked boaters to be vigilant and keep manatees on their minds as they are enjoying our state’s waterways. This spring, manatees, vulnerable and hungry after the long winter, will be venturing out of warm water sites at the same time boaters will be headed out to enjoy the warmer temperatures. All boaters should program the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) hotline number 1-888-404-3922 into their cell phones and have it on board at all times so that injured or dead manatees can be reported immediately.

The events of this winter highlight the vulnerability of our state’s manatee population, and reinforce the importance of safeguarding winter habitat and minimizing human-related threats to this species.