By Judy Berman
Manatees and hurricanes were among my first exposure to Florida.
This week, the plight of 19 manatees riveted the nation’s eyes on Satellite Beach, as rescuers tried to get them out of a storm drain they had retreated to in search of warm water.
As I watched the news, I thought back to my first encounter with the gentle sea cows.
It was 1999, and we’d moved to Florida just a few months before Hurricane Floyd was threatening to barrel down our way.
Unaware of how much of a problem the hurricane would pose, I decide to spend my day off at Palm Bay’s Turkey Creek Sanctuary.
I was alone in the then 107-acre sanctuary. No radio. No phone. I just wanted to get away from it all.
For 1 ½ hours, I sat on a bench in a covered bridge scanning the water for just one thing. Then, I saw the form of a golden-brown manatee just beneath the surface of the coffee-colored creek.
Once before, on a visit here with my husband, we heard what sounded like a whoosh through the mammal’s blow hole. It was coming from the creek below us where there was algae and leaves.
This time, it just glided by. Such a calming creature. It’s affectionately referred to as the “gentle sea cow.” The adults are 10 to 12 feet long, and weigh between 1,500 to 1,800 pounds.
So, when I heard that the manatees were in danger this week, I anxiously watched the news. There were 19 of them trapped in a storm drain. They’d gone into that spot in Satellite Beach in search of warm, fresh water.
When the temperatures dip below 50, Floridians crab about the bone-chilling cold. But it’s far more serious for the manatees.
If it stays cold too long, that poses a serious health threat to the manatees. Water temperatures in the lagoon were pegged as low as 56 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Manatees can’t tolerate water less than 68 degrees for a prolonged period of time,” according to a report in Florida Today, a Gannett publication, based in Melbourne, Florida.
Usually, the manatees hang out near warm water from power plants.
This time, they crowded into a storm drain. Their plight drew national media attention.
What seemed ominous at first had a happy ending.
It took a village – literally – to rescue all 19 manatees, thanks to the efforts of workers from Satellite Beach, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, SeaWorld, police and fire crews.
The next time it’s cold, manatees will have to look elsewhere for warmth. That storm drain now has a new grate covering the opening to keep manatees from scooting in there for refuge from the cold.
Have you ever seen a manatee in real life? What wildlife have you seen up close and personal?
Video: Rescue workers trying to free 19 manatees stuck in a storm drain in Satellite Beach, Florida – Florida Today – http://www.floridatoday.com/story/news/local/2015/02/23/crews-satellite-beach-trying-free-stuck-manatees/23908945/?fb_ref=Default
Photo: Rescuers free 19 manatees from a storm drain in Satellite Beach. Photo by Malcolm Denemark of “Florida Today,” a Gannett newspaper based in Melbourne, Florida.
Photo: SeaWorld, FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission), and animal experts work with police, fire and public works in Satellite Beach to free the manatees. Photo by Malcolm Denemark of Florida Today.
Link: Florida Manatees – Basic Facts – http://www.defenders.org/florida-manatee/basic-facts