Manatees huddle in canal, sunbathe to keep warm

As Florida experiences unusually cold temperatures and even snow in some parts, wildlife officials are keeping a close eye on vulnerable manatees and sea turtles.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says they've already rescued nearly 100 turtles so far. When temperatures drop, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water on or near shore. They may appear dead but are often still alive.

Manatees head for warmer waters, such as discharge canals, power plants and natural springs, when the temperatures plunge.  Over 100 were seen huddling in a canal in Indian Harbour Beach on Friday, where the water is a warm 70 degrees.  FWC says they swim about a mile from the Indian river Lagoon to get into this warm canal, because this recent cold snap has cooled the lagoon in some places as low as 50 degrees.

Manatees don't like extended time in water less than 68 degrees, so they've been coming her for the past ten years, and it makes quite a spectacle.  Photographer Ian Gronosky snapped an image of one manatee rolling over in the water, at times sunning himself on his back and then his belly.

Wildlife officials are asking boaters to be extra vigilant and to avoid areas where large numbers of manatees have gathered. Sustaining adequate winter habitat for manatees has been a statewide conservation goal.

Wildlife officials want residents to report distressed animals to their alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC.