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Sarasota marine animals largely unscathed by recent cold

FWC reported more than 900 cold-stunned sea turtles across Florida, none around Sarasota or Manatee counties.

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  • | 1:00 p.m. January 8, 2018
Mote Rehabilitation Technician Jenna Rouse (left) and Rehabilitation and Medical Care Coordinator Lynne Byrd tend to Doodle, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
Mote Rehabilitation Technician Jenna Rouse (left) and Rehabilitation and Medical Care Coordinator Lynne Byrd tend to Doodle, a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
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A recent run of cold weather incapacitated hundreds of marine animals across Florida but made little impact around Sarasota and Manatee counties.

Officials from Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, which works with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to respond and track at-risk animals off the Sarasota and Manatee county coastlines, said they hadn't taken in any local animals for rehabilitation after last week's cold spell, which sent temperatures nearly 20 degrees below average for days. 

“I don’t know if our Sarasota waters are warmer or if we just got lucky this round, because it does ebb and flow. One facility is slammed while another takes a break and vice versa," said Mote biologist Rebeccah Hazelkorn. "We’ve been pretty fortunate now that we haven’t been overwhelmed with these animals.”

While it didn't take in any animals last week, Mote is housing 12 turtles it received in December, including 10 from the New England Aquarium  in Quincy, Mass. While the facility prioritizes local animals, Hazelkorn said it's prepared to take in additional animals if requested by FWC or other out-of-state entities.

"We don't want to have to turn away a local animal, but we understand that the stranding network and the rehab network truly is a network, and we all need to help each other out if times get crazy," Hazelkorn said.

FWC spokeswoman Michelle Kerr said that along with hundreds of fish such as snook and jack crevalle, last week the organization attended to more than 900 cold-stunned turtles in Florida waters, mostly around the panhandle and Big Bend region. Officials also responded to several manatees that suffered cold stress in the northern portions of the state, including at least one that died near St. Johns County.

Kerr said waters below 68 degrees can slow down manatees' metabolism and eventually kill them if exposed for extended times. Last week, waters were below 60 degrees as far south as Venice.

Locally, Mote and FWC officials attended to a seven-foot-long manatee in the Manatee River last week. Hazelkorn said smaller manatees, which typically grow to more than nine feet in length, are more susceptible to cold stress.

That manatee was taken to waters near the Tampa Electric Co. power plant in Apollo Beach. Manatees typically gather there in the winter months, drawn by the warm water output by the plant, Hazelkorn said.

Adding to the cold was its duration. Typically, Florida experiences outbreaks of cold that last a few days, not more than a week of below-average temperatures, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Jennifer Hubbard.

"It had been years since we’d seen air that cold, so the odds are low that we’ll see another super-cold blast, but it's certainly possible," Hubbard said.



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