Cold snap could be deadly for manatees, turtles, wildlife officials warn

Wildlife officials keeping a close eye on vulnerable manatees, sea turtle

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – As Florida experiences unusually cold temperatures and even snow in some parts, wildlife officials are keeping a close eye on vulnerable manatees and sea turtles.

Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission say they've already rescued nearly 100 turtles so far. When temperatures drop, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water on or near shore. They may appear dead, but are often still alive.

“Our staff, partners and permitted volunteers are already working to rescue sea turtles in northwest Florida. Nearly 100 turtles have been rescued so far. We are also monitoring the Mosquito Lagoon and other areas of the state to see if sea turtles are being impacted there,” FWC Division of Habitat and Species Conservation director Kipp Frohlich said.

Manatees head for warmer waters, such as discharge canals, power plants and natural springs, when the temperatures plunge. Wildlife officials are asking boaters to be extra vigilant and to avoid areas where large numbers of manatees have gathered. Sustaining adequate winter habitats for manatees has been a statewide conservation goal.

“Aggregated animals should not be disturbed, as this could cause them to leave the warm-water sites that help them cope with cold temperatures," Gil McRae, head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, said.

Wildlife officials want residents to report distressed animals to their alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC.