As temperatures drop, manatees head to plant's warm waters

The perfect storm happened under a clear blue sky Monday at TECO's Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach. After a cold night, sea cows came by the dozens.

"With the water cooling down, we've probably got a couple hundred in here today," offered Jamie Woodlee of the manatee viewing center.

The fact that it was the first day of Thanksgiving break for schools completed the perfect storm, with visitors outnumbering even the crowd of sea cows.

"I've been interested in animals and my youngest has shown interest in nature, so they get a great kick out of it," said Bo Salling with his wife and two sons, visiting from Texas.

The manatees arrive this season amid both good and bad news. Scientists counted around 6,000 manatees in the wild, another sign that the species is rebounding, but this could also be a record year for manatees killed by boats. State officials say 91 have died so far this year; the record is 97.

Boat collisions are so common that manatees are known by the propeller marks on their bodies.

"Almost every manatee in the wild has some type of scar, so they log them, take pictures of them, and that's how they identify them," explained Woodlee.

But on this day, hundreds were safe in this refuge, enjoying water warmed by the power plant. 

LINK: Manatee viewing center