Manatee season is almost here, and with it comes tropical storm Nicole. As the storm strengthens and makes its way closer to the eastern shorelines of Florida, it's hard but to wonder what kind of impact storms of such caliber have on the wildlife, specifically the already endangered species such as manatees. So, let's talk about it; what happens to manatees during a hurricane?
"They weather the storms very well," A. Quinton White, Jr., executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University was quoted saying in a Creative Loafing article regarding manatee safety from 2017, furthering that manatees are able to sense storms coming and can "tuck themselves away into protected waters for the duration."
On the other hand, Executive Director of Save the Manatee Club, Patrick Rose, noted that even though Florida manatees are typically well adapted to extreme weather, strong storms have been known to cause drastic changes to their habitat and lead to displacement.
A news article from 2021 stated that a woman in Alabama spotted manatees in her neighbor's shallowly flooded yard following hurricane Ida. The manatees were unable to find their way back to open waters on their own and had to be escorted towards a canal. Though this group of gentle giants ultimately survived--that isn't always the case.
Following large storms, misplaced debris and wastewater runoff can cause environmental changes that lead to manatee die-offs.
As of 2019, there were an estimated 5,000-8,000 manatees living in Florida, however that number appears to be dropping as the Fish and Wildlife Conservation (FWC) is currently investigating an ongoing manatee mortality event along the east coast.
"The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to investigate a high level of manatee mortalities and respond to manatee rescues along the Atlantic coast of Florida [...] The Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events has confirmed these manatee mortalities have met the criteria to be an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared it an UME," an official press release by the FWC states, in part.
While it's impossible to say how manatees will fair through the upcoming storm, FWC has a list of ways you can help Florida manatees which you can find here.