The current cold snap is having an effect on some of Florida's fish and wildlife as temperatures dip below normal.
Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute were busy Thursday rescuing two injured manatees from the east and west coasts.
One manatee was rescued in Palm Beach County; the other was rescued in Pinellas County.
In St. Petersburg, FWC biologists rescued a juvenile female manatee from a canal. Rescuers pulled the nearly 7-foot female manatee from the 53-degree water. Prolonged exposure to water of that temperature can lead to cold-stress syndrome and ultimately death in manatees. Biologists took the manatee to Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.
FWC biologists and local law enforcement agencies rescued an 8-foot male manatee with watercraft-related injuries from a discharge canal at the Florida Power and Light power plant in Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County. Biologists transported the manatee to Miami Seaquarium for treatment and rehabilitation.
The FWC continues to monitor the species affected most by the cold and is prepared to rescue animals when necessary.
The Florida manatee is one species impacted by extremely cold weather. Exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees for long periods can cause a condition called manatee cold-stress syndrome, which can result in death.
When water temperatures drop, manatees gather in warm-water habitats, such as discharge canals at power plants, canal systems or springs. The FWC asks boaters to be extra vigilant in watching for manatees in shallow waters near the coast, both inland and coastal, and obey all posted manatee speed zone signs. Enhanced law enforcement patrols will focus on areas experiencing large congregations of manatees and in manatee regulatory zones.
All boaters, including kayakers and canoers, and the public in general should avoid areas where large numbers of manatees are gathered. The aggregated animals should be left alone because a disturbance could scare them away from the warm-water sites, which they need to survive during the cold temperatures.
To report a dead or distressed manatee, call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
Cold weather also can affect sea turtles. When the water temperature drops, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water or wash onto shore. Although these turtles may appear to be dead, they are often still alive. It is important to report these turtles to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline as soon as possible.
The FWC, working with the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, recovered more than 250 cold-stunned sea turtles in Mosquito Lagoon in Brevard County this past week. Sea turtle rehabilitation facilities throughout the state will house these animals until they can be released when temperatures warm.
The FWC Fish Kill Hotline has received several reports of cold-related fish kills over the past few days. Extended periods of unusually cold weather can kill fish outright by cold stress or make fish more susceptible to disease. Warm-water species, including the popular game fish snook, are particularly vulnerable to cold temperatures. Fish affected by the cold may appear lethargic and may be seen at the surface where the water may be warmer from the sun. Recreational regulations still apply with these fish.
The FWC monitors fish disease and mortality events around the state. The FWC asks the public to report dead and dying fish to the Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.
All other distressed wildlife may be reported to the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).