Cold Spell Endangers Florida's Manatees

Sal holds a Political Science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.
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A little snuggling to keep the blood flowing in chilly waters. (Photo: Carol Grant / Getty Images)

Folks up and down East Coast aren’t the only warm-blooded creatures fleeing the cold this week.

Manatees—the giant marine mammals with paddle-shaped tails—are swimming en masse from colder-than-usual Gulf of Mexico waters into warmer springs and power plant discharge canals, reports the Associated Press.

Earlier this week, more than 300 manatees swam into the outflow of Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station.

Said Wendy Anastasiou, an environmental specialist at the power station’s viewing center: "It's like a warm bathtub for them. They come in here and hang out and loll around."

2010 has proven to be a particularly deadly year for the gentle giants, which can weigh 1,200 pounds and grow to 10 feet long.

According to the Associated Press:

From January 1 through December 17, 246 manatees died from so-called cold stress. During the same time period in 2009, only 55 manatees died from the cold. In 2008, only 22 manatees succumbed to chilly temperature.

"Obviously we're very concerned as an agency about the unusually high number of manatee deaths this year," said Wendy Quigley, a spokeswoman with Florida's Fish and Wildlife Research Insistute.

Anastasiou said that even though they're huge mammals, manatees don't do well in cold waters.

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

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