December 30, 2010

Manatees Looking For Warmer Waters

Manatees in Florida are swimming out of the cold waters in the Gulf of Mexico to find warmer places, like springs and power plant discharge canals.

Over 300 manatees floated in the outflow of Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station on Tuesday.

"It's like a warm bathtub for them," Wendy Anastasiou, an environmental specialist at the power station's manatee viewing center, told the Associated Press (AP). "They come in here and hang out and loll around."

Manatees' immune systems can be weakened by colder weather.  State officials said 246 manatees died from "cold stress" in 2010.  Only 55 manatees died from the cold during the same time period in 2009.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission statistics, manatee deaths documented from January 1 through December 5 are nearly double the five-year average for that time period.

"Obviously we're very concerned as an agency about the unusually high number of manatee deaths this year," Wendy Quigley, a spokeswoman with the state-run Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, said in a statement sent to AP.

There has been a total of 699 manatees found dead between January 1st and December 5th, and state officials said that it is likely the cold temperatures contributed to many of the 203 deaths in the "undetermined" category and the 68 deaths of manatees whose bodies could not be recovered.

Quigley said that the statistics do not include this week's cold snap.

Anastasiou said that Tampa Bay and Gulf water temperatures are hovering at around 50 degrees.  When the water drops below 68, then manatees seek warmer waters. 

She said water temperature in the power plant's Big Bend canal ranges from about 65 to 75 degrees. 

"They're not blubbery mammals. They're very lean mammals," Anastasiou said. "They need the warmth. They need a warm place to go."

An adult manatee can grow up to 10 feet long and weight 1,200 pounds.  Manatees leave Florida during the warmer months and can be found as far west as Texas and as far north as Massachusetts.

About 329 manatees congregated at the Tampa Electric power station during last year's cold snap.  About 50 manatees gathered in the outfall of a Florida Power and Light plant on Tuesday.


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