This year’s cold snap did more than send Floridians digging through their closets for boots — it killed dozens of manatees.
The unseasonably cold temperatures from Jan. 1-26 left 35 of Florida’s most docile marine mammals dead — five times as many as last January, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. January 2018 was deadlier than the first month of any of the previous five years, with the next highest cold stress death toll in January 2013 with 12 dead manatees.
Although they look blubbery, manatees actually have very little body fat. Most of their bulk is dedicated to muscle and internal organs. That makes the sea cows very sensitive to cold, which is why they tend to cluster around natural springs or the warm waters near power plants. If the water stays below 68 degrees for too long, manatees can die.
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Only one of those cold-related deaths was in Miami-Dade County. Broward County had seven deaths, while Palm Beach County had two. The other deaths were scattered throughout the state, including two in Manatee County on the west coast.
Nineteen of the deaths happened in mid-January when night temperatures dropped into the 30s.
When taking into account all deaths — including being killed by boats — 87 manatees died statewide in January, more than double the number from January 2017.