FORT MYERS, Fla.-- According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 163 manatees died in the state between January 1 and February 25.
That figure is well above the five-year average of 132 manatee deaths for the same time period.
A majority of the deaths are being blamed on the cold weather.
Nancy Kilmartin, the Senior Program Specialist at Manatee Park in Fort Myers, says when water gets below 68 degrees, manatees typically migrate. But if they stay too cold for too long, they'll suffer from "cold stress."
"Cold stress is a condition where their system shuts down," says Kilmartin. "They become disoriented and they can die. It's like being exposed for us to cold weather for a long time."
In 2010, during the time period between January 1 and February 25, 354 manatees died in Florida. Most of those deaths were attributed to cold stress due to the extended periods of freezing temperatures seen in Florida at that time.
It has warmed up significantly recently, and the manatees often seen at Manatee Park between November and March are now back in the Gulf, where the water temperature is in the low seventies.
While the weather should not be a factor for the next several months, the manatees are still in danger.
Boaters are urged to use extreme caution. The large aquatic mammals are a protected species, so you are forbidden from touching or feeding them. Breaking those rules could be considered harassment.