The cold snap that helped produce the state's highest manatee count ever this month is also claiming a record number of victims.
Through Jan. 23 this year, more than 100 manatee carcasses were found in state waters, an unprecedented number, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Officials blamed cold stress for 77 of the deaths. That exceeds the previous record for cold-related deaths, set last year, of 56 in a single year.
Cold weather also contributed to the deaths of several newborn manatees, researchers said.
The wildlife commission expects the number to climb as more carcasses are collected and examined, though the rate should slow as the waters warm up.
The news comes a week after the state's marine science laboratory announced that the annual winter aerial survey counted a record number of manatees in Florida — more than 5,000, or 1,200 more than the previous record, set just last year.
Biologists said the record-breaking string of cold days produced ideal conditions for counting the manatees, which tend to congregate in warm water when the temperature drops below 65 degrees.
Last year was the deadliest ever for manatees, state officials reported this month, with records broken both for the total number of deaths statewide and the number killed by boats.
A total of 429 manatees died last year — 97 by boats. A new federal study says the manatee population can endure only 12 deaths a year caused by humans without risking extinction.