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Record-Breaking Gathering of Almost 1,000 Manatees at Florida State Park During Ongoing Mortality Event

In recent years, Florida manatees have faced numerous challenges to their survival, but there's a glimmer of hope at Blue Springs State Park, just north of Orlando. The park recently witnessed its largest-ever manatee count, providing a positive update for the struggling species.

The milestone was shared on Facebook by Blue Springs State Park on Jan. 21, celebrating a "record-breaking morning." Park officials reported an impressive count of 932 manatees in the area, surpassing their previous record of 736 on New Year's Day earlier this year.

A photo posted by park officials depicted a heartening scene in one area of the park, with dozens of manatees huddled together in the water. This remarkable count occurred on what the Save the Manatee Club described as the "coldest morning of the season," with the river temperature at 58.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Manatees, being sensitive to the cold, tend to gather in warmer areas during winter. Blue Spring State Park, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, stands as one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in the state, with water temperatures maintaining a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

The importance of warm water for manatee survival cannot be overstated. These gentle mammals, despite their appearance, have only about an inch of fat and a slow metabolism, making it challenging for them to stay warm. Sanctuaries like Blue Spring are crucial for their well-being.

The article notes the ongoing struggle of Florida manatees, marked by an unusual mortality event since 2020. Last year, over 550 manatees succumbed to various causes, with watercraft accidents and diseases leading the list. Approximately 20% of these deaths were linked to a "significant red tide bloom" in the state's southwest. Red tide, caused by algae known as Karenia brevis, produces toxins harmful to marine life and humans alike.

Exposed manatees face the risk of neurotoxin exposure, leading to weakness, paralysis, seizures, and other distressing symptoms. The state's efforts to address the manatees' food shortage include supplemental feeding programs, which have proven effective in reducing starvation. However, despite ongoing challenges, the state decided to conclude the feeding program at the close of 2023.

While the unusual mortality event continues, the recent surge in manatee numbers at Blue Springs State Park offers a hopeful sign in the ongoing efforts to protect and preserve these beloved marine creatures.

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