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Manatees at Risk of Freezing During Colder Months

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) - It wasn't hard to notice Tuesday was frigid across Tampa Bay. In fact, it was the coldest day of the season thus far and since we're already as far south as we can get, our next best bet is a thicker jacket - something our local manatees don't have.

"They're herbivores, so their bodies don't have that layer of blubber fat like whales or dolphins so, when the waters hit about 68 degrees and stay that way and get lower they need to find warmer water or they start to get what we call Cold Stress Syndrome," said Jenn Galbraith, Field Coordinator for the Manatee Rehab & Rescue Partnership with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. "Basically, it's freezing to death  from the outside in."

Just off the water's edge in Tierra Verde is a popular spot for viewing manatees. But over the colder months, that changes. Part of that is because they're migrating to warmer places like the Florida springs or local power plants like the Teco Manatee Viewing Center.

"Teco and other power plants around Florida.. they have an intake canal where they bring in water from the bay and then it discharges back out much warmer," said Galbraith. And over the years, she says manatees have figured that out. "At the Teco plant in Apollo Beach, the water temperature is about 82, 84 right now in that canal as opposed to the 64 degree water out in the bay."

Another reason for their declining population is the multitude of stressors on them.

"Number one would be boat strikes. Red Tide is a big problem. Right now, were experiencing an unusual mortality event because of the lack of sea grass. Essentially, right now they're having to decide whether to freeze or starve," said Galbraith. And the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is working to address those stressors with post release monitoring.

"So animals that have been released from rehab, we are tagging them with GPS tags monitoring them. Where are they going to find food? Where are they going to find warm water?"

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is also working on their latest project to create room for manatees as a secondary stage of care once they finish critical care but can't return to the wild.

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