Chilly Florida Not Animal-Friendly

Hang in there, animals! Spoon for warmth!

It's not just iguanas falling from the sky or the 17 blankets you slept under last night that tell us Florida's cold snap is having an effect on some of its heat-loving creatures. All over the state, animals accustomed to tropical temps are struggling to survive, in some cases with lots of overtime from their human helpers.

At the University of Florida, students and scientists in the College of Vetinerary Medicine are working to save dozens of over 160 sea turtles found floating in the Mosquito Lagoon area, their systems shocked by cold water. One stunned turtle was found to have a body temperature of 53°, at least 20 below normal.

It's happened before, during cold spells in 1989 and 2001. But the sheer number of turtles needing rescue this year is zapping the resources of area facilities. Some were sent as far as the Clearwater Marine Aquarium; at UF, nearly 40 turtles are floating in pools in a room cranked up to 80 degrees.

"They're not quite out of the woods," said Dr. Mike Walsh, associate director of aquatic animal health. "They need some time."

The school has no budget for cold-snap turtle rescue, but a Gainesville-area pool supply sold filters at cost and Walsh says "a lot" of volunteers are working to save the turtles, conducting exams, taking blood, and applying patient numbers to their shells with nail polish.

Speaking of gators, our real life neighbor is expected to have a tough time as well. One 8-footer is already off to that Big Retention Pond in the Sky after trying to get some sun in Hialeah a little too close to a school. Animal trapper Todd Hardwick says his company expects to see many more as the reptiles try to catch some rays, but unfortunately, a nuisance call for any gator over four feet is an automatic death sentence.

In cuter news, the manatee population in Broward County waterways has more than tripled since last week. The slow-moving, heat-cuddling sea cows are heading south from all over the state, trying to congregate in as warm a spot as they can find. Lucky ones will end up in the warm discharge of the FPL power plant at Port Everglades; unlucky ones, well...

"If the water is anywhere from 68 degrees or lower," said Jorge Pino of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, "they start to suffer from cold water stress and can die."

Not to mention the ones who don't survive the trip thanks to boaters, something the FFWCC is hoping to avoid by enforcing no-wake zones and residents are taking upon themselves to prevent.

"We're not taking the boat out until they leave," said Port Everglades resident Ellen Kennedy. "We want to make sure we can happily coexist."

Plain old fish aren't having it any easier. Tequesta tropical fishery owner Michael Breen says he began clearing thousands of floaters from his ponds a few days ago, and told MSNBC he expects the worst.

"If we have three consecutive days where we don't warm above 50°, the entire farm is dead no matter what we do," he said while pumps ran continuously to provide warm water to an estimated $500,000 worth of gills.

"We haven't been hit like this in a long time."

If only there was something we could do, like knit tiny shell sweaters or pool all our old Uggs to be made into one giant manatee-sized Ugg. Hang in there, guys!

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