How Cold-Stressed Manatees Are Treated

In spite of their size, manatees have relatively little body fat and cannot tolerate water temperatures below 68° F for long periods of time. The photo above is of a rescued manatee showing signs of cold stress. A cold-stressed manatee is usually malnourished and emaciated, and their body will have white patches where the skin has sloughed off. Manatees can die from exposure to prolonged cold weather. (Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Q. Can can you tell me how you treat a cold-stressed manatee?
--Wendy Thomas, United Kingdom

A. When a manatee is rescued due to cold stress, the first step is to bring the animalís core temperature back to normal. While en route to a rescue facility, thermal blankets may be used. Upon arrival at the facility, the manatee is placed in water above 80° F. The next step is to ensure the manatee is eating. If it is not, then the manatee may need to be tube-fed. Getting nutrients is important to keep the mantee's gut working, and it also helps with internal heat production since manatees generate heat in the digestion process due to microbes in their gut. Antibiotics may be administered to prevent the spread of infection from skin lesions associated with cold stress. In addition, cold-stressed manatees are often dehydrated and constipated, so rehydration is an important step and also helps facilitate the movement of food through the intestines.

--Courtney Edwards
Staff Biologist, Save the Manatee Club

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A manatee showing signs of cold stress.
This manatee is also exhibiting signs of cold stress. (Photo courtesy FWC)