Florida is on pace to set an annual record for manatee deaths, according to officials with a nonprofit government watchdog group.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility officials said the first two months of 2018 have been especially deadly for Florida manatees.
According to Florida Fish and Wildlife statistics, through March 9, there have been 183 reported manatee deaths. Of those, 52 deaths are contributed to cold stress.
Cold stress occurs in manatees as a result of exposure to prolonged cold weather.
Experts said exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods can put a manatee at risk for cold-stress syndrome. It leads to weight loss, internal fat loss, dehydration and other issues.
Ron Mezich with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said young manatees are especially vulnerable to death from cold stress.
“It’s one of the factors that manatees typically have to deal with, and a lot of young animals tend to be more susceptible to cold winters when they’re out on their own for the first time,” Mezich said.
A recent Florida-wide synoptic manatee survey found there are 6,131 manatees, which is down from 6,620 in 2017.