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SunHerald Article - December 29, 2010
Manatees in Mobile Bay, Pascagoula River Die in Cold Weather



GULFPORT -- A manatee found in Mobile Bay died en route to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport on Christmas, and another manatee was found dead along the Pascagoula River in Moss Point on Tuesday.

Moby Solangi, IMMS director, said crews from the Moss Point Police Department were helping his staff load the manatee onto the trailer. A necropsy will be performed today to try to determine the cause of the manatee’s death.

He thinks the cold weather could be to blame. Manatees normally leave the area and go to Florida in the fall and don’t return until spring.

“Every winter we see a few stragglers,” he said. With the water temperature dipping into the 40s along the northern Gulf of Mexico, he said the animals may have become too cold and gotten stuck on land when the tide went out.

A team from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab responded Saturday to help the first manatee found on a Mobile Bay beach. They wrapped the manatee in warm towels and, fashioning a stretcher with car towing straps, moved the 700-pound young male to a trailer. They were hoping to get it to IMMS in Gulfport, where it would have been placed in a warm pool.

Results from that necropsy, the term for an animal autopsy, weren’t yet available when Solangi said he received a call Tuesday afternoon from the Department of Marine Resources about the manatee in the Pascagoula River.

It’s unusual to see two manatee deaths in three days from the same general area, he said.

“There are just so many unknowns,” Solangi said. The animals, which he said are “extremely endangered,” could have been affected by the environmental challenges following the BP Gulf oil spill. “But cold weather is their biggest enemy.”

In Florida, manatees are reportedly swimming out of the chilly Gulf waters and into the warmer waters around springs and power-plant discharge canals.

On Tuesday, more than 300 manatees floated in the outflow of Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station.

“It’s like a warm bathtub for them,” said Wendy Anastasiou, an environmental specialist at the power station’s manatee viewing center.

“They come in here and hang out and loll around.”

Even though they’re huge animals, manatees are very cold-sensitive. Florida officials said 2010 has been a deadly year for them.

Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17, 246 manatees died from so-called “cold stress.”

During the same time period in 2009, only 55 manatees died from the cold. In 2008, only 22 manatees succumbed to chilly temperatures.

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