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Researchers closely monitor manatee activity with frigid temps in Florida's forecast

Water temps below 70 can cause animals distress
Posted at 5:07 PM, Jan 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-28 18:27:00-05

STUART, Fla. — Temperatures in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast could drop below freezing in some areas this weekend.

Some of the most vulnerable to those cold temperatures are sea life, especially manatees, which have already been dealt a tough hand hitting record deaths last year.

That die-off has been blamed largely on diminishing food sources for manatees.

Cold weather could be an added stress for the already struggling species.

MORE: Tips for Florida residents on how to prepare for freezing temperatures

Scientists say temperatures in the upper 60s, typically 67 to 68 degrees, will begin to stress manatees.

Dr. Dennis Hanisak with Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch regularly monitors real-time data in the Indian River Lagoon through the Indian River Lagoon Observatory Network of Environmental Sensors (IRLON).

Dr. Dennis Hanisak, Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch
Dr. Dennis Hanisak is among the researchers who monitor manatee activity.

During cold snaps, the data can be used to monitor temperature changes.

Hanisak said Friday evening they were already seeing temperatures around 66 degrees in some parts of the lagoon.

"It's good to couple what happens with the weather and what happens in the water because especially in Florida the two are so heavily linked," Hanisak said.

Tracking the changes in real-time can also help various researchers and environmental groups predict and potentially plan where the impacts will be felt the most, and where they might find manatees in stress.

"It could give you some idea of how bad it is. Do you need to mobilize a response quicker? It might give you some ideas, and say it was much colder over here, let's go there first," Hanisak said.

But the colder temperatures can provide some better viewing opportunities, as manatees will be on the move in search of warmer water.

Manatees, file photo from 2010
In this Dec. 28, 2010, file photo, a group of manatees are in a canal where discharge from a nearby Florida Power & Light plant warms the water in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Hanisak said you might see more in larger groups in canals, where the water can be deeper and take longer to cool.

People saw plenty of manatees Friday gathering in a canal that is a popular viewing spot off Indian Street in Martin County.

"It really is fun to just see them, you know," said Rosalie Shane.

"I just think they’re nice, gentle giants and fun to watch," said Paul Hocking.

They're taking in the perk of potentially seeing more manatees during the cold weather, but among the many hoping the beloved animals don't feel the stress.

"It’s just really sad because they’re a part of Florida, and it's sad to see them struggle," Hocking said.