SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium partnered with Florida Fish and Wildlife Officers and ZooTampa to help rescue two cold and stressed manatees from Sarasota-area waterways.
On Jan. 12, 2021, biologists from Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s Stranding Investigations Program were called upon by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to respond to a call about a manatee in a residential canal connected to nearby Philippi Creek.
The manatee had begun to show signs of cold stress and was unable to get out of the canal. Water temperatures were 67 degrees that day which is below the animal’s threshold for tolerance.
After Mote’s initial response, FWC led the rescue effort to assist the manatee. A subadult female, she was a little over 6 feet long. The manatee was safely netted onto the shore and transferred into a transport truck that headed for ZooTampa’s David A Straz, Jr Manatee Critical Care Center, one of four critical care facilities for manatees in the state of Florida.
Two days later, a similar incident occurred in Whitaker Bayour near downtown Sarasota.
This animal had been reported by residents along the water. The manatee also showed signs of cold stress, and again FWC and Mote worked together to capture the manatee and transport it to ZooTampa for rehabilitation.
“As soon as we responded to both these animals, we could tell they were exhibiting signs of cold stress, and we measured water temperature to confirm that it was below their minimum temperature threshold,” said Amber Lea Kincaid, Stranding Biologist at Mote. “Conducting two successful rescues within just days really shows how important our stranding network is, and how well we can work together quickly to get these animals the care they need.”
Manatees differ from other marine mammals in that they do not have a layer of blubber, and therefore cannot tolerate water temperatures that drop below 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Famously, this results in manatees seeking refuge in constant-temperature springs and in the outflows of power plants. However, if a manatee is not able to seek refuge, they can become what is referred to as “cold stressed”. This is especially problematic for smaller, younger animals. Signs of cold stress include the presence of white lesions on the skin, which begin around the extremities, including the animal’s face wrinkles, nostrils, and the edges of its paddle and flippers. These lesions can worsen, resulting in systemic infection that can result in the animal’s death. Historical data about manatee deaths from cold is available on FWC’s website here.
If you see a distressed or deceased marine mammal or sea turtle in Sarasota or Manatee counties, call Mote’s 24/7 hotline at 888-345-2335. For all other areas in Florida, please call FWC’s 24/7 hotline at 888-404-3922.