Florida cold weather means its manatee cuddling time in the springs

Manatees gather in Florida's springs in the cold weather

Florida is experiencing its first cold weather of winter – at least by Floridian standards – and that means hundreds of manatees are flocking to the Sunshine state's springs and warm water runoffs.

On Tuesday, Central Florida started in the 30s and 40s, one of the coolest mornings of the season. By noon, temperatures were still in the low to mid-50s in Orlando. However, while the air is cold, Florida's spring water stays around 68 degrees year-round.

Despite their blubbery appearance, the sea cows have little body fat and cannot survive prolonged exposure to cold water. Manatees swim freely in Florida's fresh waterways from April to late October, and in the winter months, they migrate into Florida's springs or canals.

After a cold front, it's not uncommon to see hundreds of manatees grouped in Blue Spring State Park in Orange City or Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park. That was the case with the most recent cold snap. 

WHERE TO SEE MANATEES IN FLORIDA DURING THE COOLER MONTHS

Save the Manatee Club Outreach Director Meghan Cohorst told FOX Weather 663 manatees were counted at Blue Spring State Park, up from 548 on Monday. According to Cohorst, when researchers first began tracking the manatee population in the 1970s, there were around 36 animals.

The nonprofit founded by Jimmy Buffett and former Florida Gov. Bob Graham is a manatee conservation organization that protects the animals and their habitat. People can even adopt a real manatee to help fund protection efforts. 

Save the Manatee Club cameras at Blue Spring State Park showed a lot of sea cow traffic in the cool blue-green water on Tuesday. Watch the graceful sea cows underwater below:

The cold weather comes at a good time as Florida State Parks hosts its annual Manatee Festival this Saturday at Blue Spring State Park.

Manatees are also known to gather around warm-water power plant discharges. 

On Florida's west coast, hundreds of manatees gathered at the TECO Big Bend Power Station Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, according to FOX 13 Tampa Bay.

Without blubber, manatees can develop "cold stress syndrome" if exposed to temperatures below 72 for long periods.

Fox 13 Tampa Bay reported last week, ZooTampa released a young manatee that was found last year suffering from the cold-stress syndrome.

"Manatees don’t actually have a lot of fat to protect them from cold water," Molly Lippincott with ZooTampa told FOX 13. "Anything below 72 degrees, they can actually start to get ill and experience what’s called cold stress syndrome. That’s basically like a hypothermia or frostbite. Any animal that’s in cold water for long can develop pneumonia, have cold stress lesions and develop all sorts of problems from the cold water."

Last year took a toll on Florida's manatee population with 1,100 manatee deaths, primarily due to the loss of seagrass, their primary food source.

In December, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission partnered with Florida Power and Light to launch a manatee feeding program outside the power plant warm water site in Cape Canaveral in December. 

However, in a recent update, the FWC said the lettuce is going uneaten. Due to the warmer weather, manatees have not been gathering at the site in Brevard County.

"There is still little manatee activity at the Temporary Field Response Station as water temperatures remain above average," the FWC wrote on Jan. 5. "Staff continue to monitor the area and provide lettuce in floating PVC pipe corrals each day in the off-chance manatees visit the area and take an interest in the lettuce offered."

This cooler weather could be an opportunity to see if manatees will learn to love the lettuce. 

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