MIAMI (CBS4) - It's been a bad year for Florida's endangered manatees. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida manatee deaths reached a new record high in 2010 thanks to cold weather last winter.
699 manatees died from Jan. 1 through Dec 5th, which is a 68-percent increase over 2009. Of those nearly 700 manatee deaths this year, 244 are attributed directly to "cold stress," a result of the manatees being exposed to frigid waters for too long during the cold snap in January. Manatee deaths for 2009 totaled 429 and only 54 of those were cold-related deaths, according to the FWC.
Although the cold weather was a natural event, this die-off underscores the importance of warm-water habitat for the long-term survival of the species.
"We are very concerned about the unusually high number of manatee deaths this year. Data from our monitoring programs over the next few years will tell us if there are long-term implications for the population," said the director of FWRI, Gil McRae. "The cold-related deaths this past winter emphasize the importance of warm-water habitat to Florida's manatees. Maximizing access for manatees to natural warm-water sites will continue to be a focus for the FWC and our partners moving forward."
FWC officials also said no cold-related deaths have been reported during the most recent cold snaps. They were quick to caution, however, that it took nearly a year for them to compile the data presented for the past year; stressing that just because deaths haven't been reported, doesn't mean that none have happened.
The FWC did have some good news. Despite the high number of deaths, the population number has risen since last year. Officials counted at least 5, 076 manatees statewide compared to 3,802 in 2009.
FWC officials asked that during the upcoming winter months, if anyone finds a dead or distressed manatee to please report it to 888-404-FWCC (3922).
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