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Florida Records Unprecedented Number Of Cold-related Manatee Deaths; Over 100 Carcasses Recovered

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- The cold period that began Jan. 2 and lasted nearly two weeks continues to impact Florida manatees. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute documented more than 100 manatee carcasses in state waters from the beginning of the year through Jan. 23.

Biologists report that the preliminary cause of death for 77 of these animals is cold stress. Although pending final review, the number of cold-stress deaths exceeds the previous record of 56 for that category in a single year, which was set in 2009.

In addition, researchers note exposure to cold this year likely contributed to the deaths of several newborn manatees, classified as “perinatal.” 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.

Since receiving the initial reports of cold stress-related manatee deaths on Jan. 7, FWC biologists have been working closely with FWC law enforcement and partner agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to respond to the high number of manatee deaths. FWC staff members and conservation partners are working extended hours to recover and transport carcasses to the FWC’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg. There, biologists perform necropsies, or animal autopsies, on each manatee to determine the cause of death and gather additional data. Some carcasses that cannot be transported are examined in the field.

Since the cold weather conditions began to affect Florida, FWC researchers have worked diligently to rescue several manatees and continue to respond to reports of distressed manatees.

“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 (3922).”

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