Although some sea cows managed to find warmer waters near Florida power plants, others did not fend so well during Florida's cold snaps. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that 2011 was the third straight year with a high number of manatee deaths.
Kevin Baxter of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg said that 453 dead manatees were found in Florida waters last year. That total makes 2011 the second deadliest for manatees. The record was set in 2010 when a staggering 766 carcasses were documented.
A prominent cause of death for these lovable sea creatures is cold stress. Marine biologist Andy Garrett told CNN that when water temperatures dip below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, manatees don't have the appropriate fat to insulate them from the freeze.
In 2011, it's estimated that 112 died from freezing temperatures and 282 in 2010. That's a large increase from five years ago when the cold accounted for only an average of 30 manatee deaths a year.
While the manatees are spread throughout the state in warm months, FWCC hopes to protect their access to natural warm water springs so that they may survive the winter. Sea cows cluster in warmer water in Wakulla Springs and Blue Springs State Park. Click here to see where manatees like to spend the Florida winter.
After cold stress, another prominent cause of manatee fatalities is human-related and very preventable. Manatees are often injured when watercraft runs over them. The blades on boat engines can cause fatal injury to the slow-moving animals.
Even though some boating areas are designated manatee zones, people's overly-intimate interaction with manatees may cause the creatures to come closer to boats than is safe, according to the FWCC.
FWCC reminds Floridians the following guidelines for when you see a manatee in the wild:
--Look, but don't touch manatees. Also, don't feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, they can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, which may make them more susceptible to harm. Passive observation is the best way to interact with manatees and all wildlife.
--Do not pursue or chase a manatee if you see one while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving or operating a boat.
--Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
--If a manatee avoids you, you should avoid it.
--Give manatees space to move. Don't isolate or single out an individual manatee from its group, and don't separate a cow and her calf.
--Keep hands and objects to yourself. Don't attempt to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch or ride a manatee.
--Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears in your swimming area.
--Use snorkel gear when attempting to watch manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear may cause manatees to leave the area.
--Float at the surface of the water to passively observe the manatees. Remember, look, but don't touch.
And finally, if you come across a dead or stressed manatee, notify the FWC's Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).
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