By now many have seen the reports of hundreds of manatees huddling around TECO Energy’s Big Bend nuclear power plant in Apollo beach. Manatees can be seen in large numbers during cold snaps between November and March. They naturally move toward warmer water when temperatures drop.

Like most Floridians, manatees like water temperatures to be above 68 degrees. If temperatures drop below 68 degrees, the manatees can become too cold which can cause damaging physiological effects such as slow digestion. This is why manatees move to warmer water.

Cold stress, or more commonly referred to as cold-stress syndrome among animal care professionals, can be deadly. The longer a manatee is subjected to water temperatures below 68 degrees, the greater the threat to its life. A manatee can suffer digestive problems and poor digestion along with malnutrition that can lead to emaciation, loss of fat deposition, atrophy, loss of lymphoid tissue – attenuating their immune system, thickened epidermis due to hyperplasia and/or the formation of puss filled pustules, and even degeneration of heart tissue.

Ultimately over exposure in a cold environment leads to death though some painful physiological mechanisms. In addition, manatees can suffer from secondary infections since their immune system is knocked-down due to all of the physiological effects resulting from cold stress syndrome. This is why it is important for manatees to find warmer water and maximize heat generation through thermogenesis (the burning of calories to produce heat) by huddling together. But what happens if the location they choose to huddle in also drops below 68 degrees?

The answer could be a fatal one if it weren’t for the marine mammal rescue network. Members from FWC and local supporting groups like Sea World, Mote Marine Laboratory, and Lowery Park Zoo (just to name a few) will rescue manatees under prolong cold stress, rehabilitate them, and return them back into Florida waters when the temperature is higher than 68 degrees, often near the same spots that they were rescued from. These teams only step in when it is medically necessary for the manatees. These compassionate people work tirelessly and are always on the ready to help save a species from surrounding to Florida cold snaps.

While we are thinking about how cold we are this week, let us not forget those who rescue animas that are not able to help themselves. This is why supporting parks that rehabilitate animals is so important. When you support these organizations you support the preservation of a species one animal at a time.