Any animals who could escape or hide did
(See also Hurricane Irma: first reports on animals in the Caribbean islands, Hurricane Irma: Hemingway cats & dolphin rescuer Rick Trout rode it out in the Keys , and Hurricane Irma: survival stories from 24 zoos & sanctuaries .)
Devastating as Hurricane Irma was to Caribbean habitat from Barbuda to the east coast of Cuba, up the Florida Keys, and on up peninsular Florida as far as the Carolinas, early reports indicate that both free-roaming and captive wildlife mostly fared as well as anyone could have hoped.
Some Key deer survived
While the National Key Deer Refuge has yet to do an official assessment, CBS Miami reporter David Sutta early on September 11, 2017 videotaped four Key deer loping alongside Highway 1 through otherwise devastated Big Pine Key.
The diminutive deer, legally protected since 1939 and still officially endangered, were believed to be among the animal species most at risk from Hurricane Irma, but may benefit from the absence of vehicular traffic until Highway 1 is reopened, probably in mid-November at soonest, according to preliminary estimates. About 125-150 roadkills per year account for up to 70% of estimated Key deer mortality.
“They are pretty good at protecting themselves. They have been on those Keys going back to the Wisconsin Ice Age, so they know what to do,” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service spokesperson Jeffrey Fleming told Kerry Grens of The Scientist.
A manatee rescue near Sarasota made headlines on September 10, after low atmospheric pressure from Hurricane Irma sucked the coastal tide out much farther than normal.
Three local men, Stephen Reisinger, Michael Sechler, and Donavan Norton, were apparently first to spot two manatees stranded on the tidal flats, at risk of suffocating from their own weight. Unable to move them, they called law enforcement, but told Fox 13 News that they were unable to reach anyone who could assist.
Meanwhile another local man, Marcelo Clavijo, arrived with friends, followed by two police officers. “We rolled the manatees on a tarp and then dragged them 100 yards,” Clavijo posted to Facebook, “back to the channel.” Added Clavijo to Fox 13 News later, “They both swam off.”
Manatees are survivors
Despite the stranding incident, manatees were expected to have mostly taken shelter in relatively deep water, where they could avoid being battered by waves and debris.
“Manatees are a tropical species and tropical storms are common throughout their range,” pointed out U.S. Geological Survey scientist Catherine Langtimm in an email to Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times. “They can simply choose a good spot protected from currents to wait the storm out.”
“Panthers don’t build homes”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission panther team leader Darrell Land told Pittman that the endangered Florida panthers would “get wet when it rains and they will hunker down when the winds pick up. Panthers don’t build homes, so their rest sites will be rather unaffected. Trees may fall but the odds of a falling tree hitting a panther are slim.”
Added Pittman, “Sea turtle nests are often wiped out by storm surges — but the turtles are prepared for that, according to Michelle Kerr of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute.
Explained Kerr, “Each nesting female sea turtle deposits several nests throughout the season. Therefore, even if a storm hits at some point during nesting season, there is a high probability that at least a few of the nests will incubate successfully.”
Wrote Pittman, “Even in 2004, when a string of four hurricanes clobbered Florida over and over, 42% of the state’s loggerhead nests hatched, which is about normal, Kerr said.
“Birds should be fine as well,” Pittman projected. “In fact, some migratory species use hurricane winds to speed them along.”
Most birds are believed to have fled northward or inland, as far away from Hurricane Irma as they could go.
But not all birds had anywhere to go.
Among the early iconic images from Hurricane Irma were photos of two parrots, believed to be part of the local urbanized feral population, taken by Miami resident Laura Aguilar as they peered in from a window ledge on the 22nd floor of the Miami Marriott Dadeland hotel in Kendall.
(See top photo appearing with this article.)
Most of the parrots, pigeons, sparrows, and other urban birds in the path of Hurricane Irma are likely to have hidden in crevices under the eaves of buildings, or under overpasses or in parking garages.
Larger nonmigratory birds, especially wading birds, took a brutal hit––and not just in Florida.
“Hurricane Irma did not only destroy the hotels in Cayo Coco, Cuba,” reported former University of Havana meteorology and geology student Alejandro Adonis Herrara, who collated and posted damage reports from Cuban television to Facebook. “Irma also annihilated most of the flamingo colonies. The images are very sad.”
Those animals who could go somewhere ahead of the storm mostly did, many of them even before the majority of human evacuees.
“Dozens of baby nurse sharks could be seen swimming along the shoreline in inches-deep water heading north toward Wiggins Pass,” on September 5, 2017, five days before Hurricane Irma reached Florida, reported Annika Hammerschlag of the Naples Daily News, posting video of the unusual movement.
“They were joined by a large green moray eel, plenty of fish, sting rays and crabs,” Hammerschlag said. “Farther offshore, a pod of dolphins and pelicans appeared to be enjoying a feeding frenzy.”
As the wind picked up and Hurricane Irma drew close to the Florida coast, many reptiles including American alligators, crocodiles, turtles, and pythons settled into murky ponds to wait it it out.
But tree-dwelling species such as iguanas, anoles, and tree frogs could only look for shelter in hollows and hold on tight––as all of them have been doing for millions of years.
Surveying 18 of the best-known of the hundreds of captive wildlife viewing venues and sanctuaries in Florida, ANIMALS 24-7 found no reports of catastrophic damage or animal losses, but many were still doing damage assessments 24 hours after Hurricane Irma passed, and quite a few were handicapped in communications as well as recovery work by lack of electricity.
A compilation from their reports will be posted as rapidly as possible.