St. Johns County fishermen work to save manatee in near-freezing temperatures

Two fishermen worked to save a beached manatee Friday as temperatures on the Intracoastal Waterway in Ponte Vedra Beach dropped to near freezing.

Cory Sparks and Jeremy Strout say they have been fishing in the Palm Valley area for years.

They were on their way home Friday evening after a day on the water when they heard an animal making noise.

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“It was just letting out groans and squeals,” Sparks said. “(We) went over to see if he was alive and he was basically not moving much at all.”

Sparks and Strout said they immediately called wildlife officials, who told them trying to get it back in the water wouldn’t help because the water was so cold.

“The temperature was dropping fast and it was getting ready to get dark,” Strout said. “I knew he wouldn’t survive the night on the bank.”

Strout says he got out of the boat and into the 47-degree water to try to help the manatee.

“I did that about five or six times and threw some water on him to try to revive him a little bit, make him feel a little better because he was clearly in distress,” he said.

They say the tide went out as they waited for wildlife officials, leaving their boat stuck for hours.

“We knew there was a chance we would get stuck but we couldn’t just drive by,” Sparks said.

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Florida wildlife officials say the water dropped to 47 degrees Friday night. Manatees cannot survive in water colder than 68 degrees.

“That last groan we kind of heard, the strongest, loudest groan, and it went kind of silent,” Sparks said.

Cheyanne Ruben with FWC says crews reached the manatee, but were not able to save it.

Action News Jax was at Palm Valley Boat Ramp Saturday as Ruben and another FWC official launched a boat to go look for its body.

She said FWC will perform a necropsy to determine what caused the manatee’s death. She said it was likely because of cold stress.

Ruben said the best thing to do if you come across an animal in distress is to call the FWC hotline at 888-404-FWCC.

“Best-case scenario, we get the call then we’re able to rescue that animal quickly, stabilize them and get them to a rehabilitation facility,” Ruben said.