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Cold January kills record number of Florida manatees

A two-week cold snap earlier this month caused a record number of deaths of endangered manatees in Florida, the state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) said this week.

“Biologists with the FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute documented more than 100 manatee carcasses in state waters from the beginning of the year through January 23,” the FWC said in a news release.


Photo courtesy of USGS-Sirenia Project

The biologists reported that the preliminary cause of death for 77 of these animals was cold stress. Although pending final review, the number of cold-stress deaths exceeded the previous record of 56 for that category in a single year, which was set in 2009, the agency said.

Researchers noted exposure to cold this year likely contributed to the deaths of several newborn manatees, classified as “perinatal,” the FWC added.


NGS illustration by Walter A. Weber

Researchers continue to recover and examine carcasses, so the total is expected to rise; however, the rate should slow down as water temperatures warm.

“The recent cold snap exposed manatees in Florida to cold water temperatures. Exposure to low temperatures over a period of time can cause a condition called manatee cold-stress syndrome, which can result in death,” the FWC noted.

“We are deeply concerned about these impacts on manatees and other fish and wildlife,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “We appreciate all the time and effort being put into the process of documenting the effects of this unprecedented event and ask the public to assist in the effort by reporting dead or distressed manatees to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (888-404-3922).”