Consistently cold waters were responsible for the largest portion of Florida manatee deaths in January.
Thirty-five manatees across Florida died as a result cold stress syndrome from Jan. 1 to 26, according to a preliminary report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This was five times as many deaths compared to the same time in 2017, but it doesn’t come close to the 151 that died during a cold snap in January 2010.
Cold stress syndrome can occur when the mammal encounters water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for a prolonged period of time. Manatees experience hypothermia, their organs start to shut down and their skin begins to slough off.
Two of the manatees that died in January were found in Manatee County waters.
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National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data show that water temperatures at Port Manatee never went above 67.1 degrees Fahrenheit in January. The average water temperature recorded was 57.6 degrees.
In all, 87 manatees were found dead statewide, with 10 of the deaths associated with boat strikes. The FWC measures deaths in eight categories, including natural and undetermined.
An aerial survey conducted over a three-day period in early January counted 6,131 individuals, falling behind the highest count last year by 489. A record number were found on the east coast, but the west coast had 732 fewer individuals compared to 2017.