TAMPA, Fla. - Florida's beautiful waterways are full of wildlife and some of the gentlest creatures in those waters are also the most vulnerable throughout the year.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 606 manatees died in Florida in 2019. That overall number is down from 824 in 2018 and shows that efforts to save sick and injured manatees are making an impact.
Zoo Tampa has the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. It is dedicated to helping these marine mammals.
Jaime Vaccaro, the animal care supervisor of the Florida Mammals Department said, "Our hospital takes in sick, injured or orphaned manatees."
"The first thing that comes to people's minds are boat strikes," she explained. "Boat strikes can be anything from propeller marks... it can also be the blunt trauma of a watercraft going across the manatee's back."
In 2019, 137 manatees died from boat strikes. That is the only area where the mortality numbers rose over last year.
Cold stress caused 60 manatee deaths last year. "They can get what's called Cold Stress Syndrome," said Vaccaro, "It's like frostbite for humans."
For this reason, manatees will migrate in cold weather to warmer waters she said, "Typically about 68 degrees is their baseline tolerance level."
You can look for manatees this time of year at locations like the Tampa Electric Company viewing center in Apollo Beach.
Vaccaro talked about also taking in Manatees sick from red tide. "Their response to that (red tide) puts them in a comatose like state,” she said. “Once they are out of the red tide environment they begin to detox."
During that detox time, the Manatee Critical Care Center staff stay with the manatees constantly keeping their snout above water. "Typically 24-48 hours is what it takes" she explained.
As the manatees are treated and begin to recover, they are able to move into different environments at the Manatee Critical Care Center. When they are better, Zoo Tampa visitors can see them in the Manatee Mangrove in the Florida section of the park.
Visit https://zootampa.org/conserve/manatee/ for more information about the David A. Straz Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. You can plan a visit or check out their social media pages for the latest patients in the care center.
If you ever see a manatee in injured or in distress, you are asked to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922; by cellular phone call *FWC or #FWC, or send a text to Tip@MyFWC.com.
The FWC has more information on manatees here.