Martine DeWit of the state Fish and Wildlife Research Institute said cold weather has been blamed for 167 of the 301 manatee deaths in Florida this year, and experts suspect cold may have killed another 50 manatees whose bodies could not be recovered, The St. Petersburg Times said Tuesday.
DeWit said manatees tend to die slowly when exposed to cold temperatures, with the animals' immune systems eventually failing as their fat depletes.
Yet those manatees found dead of cold-related causes this year appear to have died quickly as the animals still had full stomachs and the majority of their fat remaining.
"It happened so quickly that even if we had been right there, I doubt we could have helped them," DeWit said.
The Times said zoos and other animal sites throughout Florida have taken in a number of manatees stressed from the cold temperatures to help the wild animals survive the winter.