By Ted Scouten

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Just like humans, manatees huddle in a warm place when it is cold outside.  In South Florida that means around natural springs and power plants where there’s warm water. Their survival depends on it. For nearly 3 dozen of the gentle sea cows, the January cold snaps turned deadly.

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“With the manatees numbers coming in,” noted Miami Seaquarium Veterinarian Dr. Maya Rodriguez, “it’s really sad it was probably about 5 fold what we’re used to seeing for January, it was up to 35 which is a pretty large number.”

Dr. Rodriguez says this winter was brutal for the sea cows. Manatees have very little body fat, despite their appearance. That makes them very sensitive to cold temperatures.  In January, of the 35 that died from cold stress statewide, seven were in Broward and one in Miami-Dade.

“They’ve been in these warm water areas since November and they’re really hungry,” she said. “So when they go out to feed some of them start swimming out to feed and they literally almost get frozen out there.”

The cold effects their organs and body systems if exposed to water below 68 degrees for a prolonged period of time.  They can even develop something similar to human frostbite.

This time of year, they face another issue — humans.

“While the cold did a number on them in January, we’re really concerned that now they’re going to be out there where all the boaters are and all the people are fishing and doing all the wonderful things you do in Florida, ” said Dr. Rodriguez.

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Each year dozens of manatees die from human factors including being hit by boats.

In January alone 15 died statewide because of humans, including two in Broward and one in Miami-Dade.

“It’s really kind of upsetting because we’re kind of invading their natural space and just kind of taking over and damaging the environment,” said Kathi Heintzlman who’s concerned about manatees.

On the water, there are manatee zones that are enforced, meaning slower speeds.

It is one way to lessen the number of sea cows maimed or killed.

“Just be cautious and share the space,” said tourist Alan Heintzlman.

Click here to see the raw numbers of manatee death from January.

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Ted Scouten