Giant eagle rays and spinner sharks joined them in the 70-degree waters Thursday as onlookers watched them frolic.
« This is a spa for them, » said Wendy Anastasiou, an environmental specialist for the Tampa Electric Company.
With temperatures dropping to 20 degrees below normal, some less-resourceful animals needed help from humans to survive.
Turtles seem to be the hardest hit, with about 200 rescued Thursday from St. Joseph’s Bay in the panhandle. They were brought to Gulf World Marine Park, where they will stay warm in a holding pool until they can be released back into more pleasant water.
Along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, 93 sea turtles were found floating in a lagoon and experts said the cold water shocked their tropically inclined systems. Most were endangered green sea turtles which were sent to research facilities for some care.
« We try to collect them and get them to a warm location so we can check them out, » said Roger Pszonowsky, a volunteer with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Brevard County, Fla.
Freshwater turtles can go into mud and hibernate, he said, but sea turtles don’t have the same advantage and that’s why they suffer from « cold stunning. »
Animals that live in the water weren’t the only ones affected. Iguanas fell out of trees in South Florida because the cold-blooded reptiles become immobilized and lose their grip when the temperature falls into the 40s or below.
Things are less dire for the manatees, which are not in immediate danger. On Thursday, the gentle giants at the Big Bend Power Plant in Apollo Beach — some weighing 3,000 pounds — floated slowly to the water’s surface to gulp air. Every so often, one would surface on its belly, delighting the crowd on a viewing platform.