Cold weather claims lives of endangered manatees

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Elizabeth Vowell - email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The staff at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport is getting to the bottom of why two dead manatees were found in nearby waters.

Clad in surgical gloves and masks, the researchers and volunteers worked for around five hours Wednesday, performing a Necropsy on the second manatee found.

"These animals are extremely endangered. There are very few left, and this year we've had twice as many die than in previous years," said IMMS Executive Director Dr. Moby Solangi.

One manatee was found dead in Mobile Bay on Christmas day. The other was found alive near Moss Point in the Pascagoula River, but died en route to IMMS.

The necropsy should confirm what the vets at IMMS believe, that the cause of death was cold weather.

"Anytime the water goes below 68 degrees Fahrenheit or if it goes to 18 degrees Centigrade, they are going to have problems with cold temperatures," explained IMMS Attending Veterinarian Dr. Connie Chevis. "Their GI tract will shut down, and it will kill them if they stay in those lower temperatures."

Researchers say that this time of year manatees are usually found in warmer waters off the coast of Florida.

"They should have migrated. Either they were lost, or they were too weak to move and the cold temperatures are their biggest enemy," said Solangi.

According to the IMMS director, shrinking habitats and environmental changes could be the reason these animals are so far from Florida.

"They move from Florida areas, and we've seen them as far as Louisiana. They're looking for habitats, looking for areas where they can find safety," said Solangi.

Now researches say they will keep a close eye out for any other stragglers in the area.

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