JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A manatee died Tuesday before it could be rescued at Huguenot Park and two other manatees were pulled from dangerously cold waters off St. Simons Island. It all comes on the heels of another manatee being rescued from Mayport last week.
Biologists said it has everything to do with the colder temperatures of the air, and most importantly, the water. Over an 18 day period in November, the water temperatures dropped 18 degrees from 80 degrees to a bone-chilling 62 degrees just like that. The fast drop in water temperature is likely to blame for the manatees being stunned by the cold, oftentimes resulting in their death.
During 2019, there have been 44 manatees that died from cold stress statewide, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The majority of the fatalities occurred between January and March.
According to rescue teams at Huguenot Park, the manatee died before they were able to transport it to SeaWorld Orlando where the sea cow would have been nursed back to health.
”It’s sad when they die right there in front of you, and you were close to being able to help them,” said Craig Miller with the Jacksonville Zoo.
Miller suspects the manatee that died Tuesday was trying to escape the colder temperatures up north in Georgia or the Carolinas, in order to reach warm waters in South Florida. He said manatees have been caught off-guard by the quick change in water and air temperature as they migrate south.
"Sometimes when it’s time to head back they may find a small warm water source that’s not enough to sustain them so they may stop in there, stay too long, then the Intracoastal temperature drops and they get caught there,” Miller said.
Miller is caring for a manatee at the Jacksonville Zoo which was found in distress in Mayport last week.
The mother manatee that was rescued from a chilly pond in St. Simons is being transferred to Sea World – her calf died.
Miller anticipates more manatees may find themselves in dangerously cold conditions in the coming days. News4Jax Meteorologist Mark Collins said the cold moved in swiftly after a relatively mild October.
"The cold moved in quickly and didn’t leave a lot of time for the manatees to migrate out. There were no early indications that we’d see a drop in temperatures, so, within a matter of two weeks, the water dropped 10 degrees in our area,” Collins said.
If the manatees are heading south for the winter, they typically flock to one of several of Florida’s natural springs which maintain a water temperature of 72 degrees all year round. They also have been known to seek refuge near power plants where the water is typically warmer, like The Big Ben Power Station in Tampa and a power plant in Cape Canaveral.
The manatee that died Tuesday morning at Huguenot Park has been taken to the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Pathology Lab in St. Petersburg for a necropsy.