SARASOTA - If you're enjoying the mild winter we've been experiencing, you're not alone. Manatees enjoy it too, because it keeps the water warm and it has a big impact on their life cycle.
The total of manatee deaths in Florida last year was 392, which is the lowest in four years. State wildlife officials say the reason is the warmer weather and more public education on manatees.
“In the years when mortality and rescues of manatees are typically high, one of the main causes…is extreme cold weather,” says Dr. John Reynolds of the Mote Manatee Research Program.
But that wasn't the case in 2012, when milder weather played a key role in the lowest number of deaths among manatees in four years. “You know, one of the other things that kills manatees is exposure to red tide. So if you have red tide events that last a long time, that kills a lot. If not, more make it,” says Dr. Reynolds.
And that's a good thing, not only for those who like to see the sea cows frolicking in the bay, but also playing a role in our ecosystem. “They evolve with sea grass systems. And so sea grass health and viability is tied into herbivores, you know cropping the sea grasses as manatees do.”
Manatees are also closely researched by Mote Marine Laboratory to help better educate the public, which can also contribute to fewer manatees being killed. “For the current and for the recent past, the combination of humans complying to regulatory zones and doing what they can as well as years like this and benign weather, it's all working for the good of the manatees,” says Dr. Reynolds.
One of the highest years for manatee deaths was in 2010, when there were 766 manatee deaths. Scientists attribute that to an unusually cold winter.
And of course, it's not just the weather that impacts the animals. Other ways we can help manatees survive include slowing down in boat speed zones where signs are posted. And of course if you see an injured manatee report it right away so it can get the care it needs to survive.