FORT LAUDERDALE (CBS4) – South Florida’s unseasonably cold weather not only has people shivering and farmers fretting over the possibility of destroyed crops, it has the manatee population seeking warmer water in order to survive. Cold stress is a leading cause of death for the cold-sensitive marine mammals.
Tuesday, a large group of manatees were spotted seeking refuge in the warm waters around the power plant at Port Everglades. It’s one of two Broward “hot spots” for manatees; the other is off the South Fork of the New River, south of I-595 and east of SR 441. Manatees use the Intracoastal Waterway as the main north-south travel corridor to reach these refuges while manatees heading inland will also use the New River and South Fork New River.
Last week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported the cold weather seen in early 2010 resulted in a record number of manatee deaths. The FWC documented 699 manatee deaths in state waters. Some 244 were caused by “cold stress,” exposure to low water temperatures. The cause of death in many of the other cases was undetermined, but officials believe the cold temperatures likely contributed.
Manatees are unable to survive long periods of time in water temperatures below 68 degrees and as temperatures drop, manatees seek refuge in warm springs and around power plants.
Boaters are urged to be extra careful in these areas. The FWC has increased patrols and is strictly enforcing speed limits in manatee protection zones when cold fronts pass through Florida. That’s when manatees are at the greatest risk of being struck by boats.
Agency officials recommend boaters wear polarized sunglasses to help spot the mammals.