Flippers and Feathers

Dolphins fins
- Cindy Lane | Sun

Flippers and feathers is a collection of fun facts about sea turtles, dolphins, manatees and shorebirds, and how to co-exist with them on Anna Maria Island’s beaches and waterways.

SEA TURTLES

  • The only time a male loggerhead sea turtle is likely to feel land under its four flippers is when it hatches from its nest on a sandy beach and crawls to the sea. After that, it stays in the water for the rest of its life. Females leave the sea and come ashore only to nest.
  • Stakes on Anna Maria Island’s beaches mark off loggerhead sea turtle nests and snowy plover and black skimmer nesting areas. While they may keep you from your favorite patch of sand for a while, remember that they mark the spots where Mother Nature is incubating the next generation of imperiled species.
  • If you’re an early morning beach walker or runner and you see hatchling turtle tracks in the sand, try not to leave your tracks over them, as the turtle tracks help Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch and Shorebird Monitoring volunteers determine whether hatchlings successfully made it to the Gulf the Mexico.
  • Sea turtles do not have external ear openings, but can sense sounds and vibrations. They have an acute sense of smell underwater and also have good vision underwater, but are nearsighted on land.
  • Turtles dig the dark! If you’re visiting Anna Maria Island in a beachfront rental, you can help sea turtle hatchlings get to the Gulf of Mexico safely by turning off balcony lights and closing drapes and blinds on Gulf-facing windows.
  • Two species of sea turtles nest on Anna Maria Island. The most common is the loggerhead, and occasionally, a green turtle nests here. The other sea turtle species are black, Kemp’s ridley, olive ridley, hawksbill, flatback and leatherback.
  • Female loggerhead sea turtles usually lay between one and nine clutches of eggs each season (May 1 – Oct. 31), then take a year off and nest every other season; the same turtle might come ashore on Anna Maria Island several times a season.
  • To avoid interfering with sea turtles as they mate in area waters during turtle season (May 1 – Oct. 31):
    • Wear polarized sunglasses to better spot sea turtles.
    • Stow trash and line when underway; if it blows overboard it can be eaten by or entangled around sea turtles.
    • Put your vessel’s engine in neutral when nearing sea turtles.
    • Don’t feed sea turtles.
    • Don’t chase, swim with or touch sea turtles.
    • Don’t encircle sea turtles with vessels.

DOLPHINS

DO

  • Stay at least 50 yards away from dolphins when viewing from a vessel or watercraft.
  • Limit time spent observing dolphins to 30 minutes or less.
  • Avoid making loud or sudden noises near dolphins.
  • Move away slowly if a dolphin’s behavior indicates the animal is stressed or disturbed.
  • Look Before You Book! Book wild dolphin viewing tours with businesses that responsibly view dolphins in the wild and help dolphin conservation. See Facebook “Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins” and “Dolphin SMART.”

DON’T

  • Pursue, swim with, pet or touch wild dolphins, even if they approach you.
  • Feed or attempt to feed wild dolphins.
  • Encircle or entrap dolphins with vessels.
  • Direct a vessel or accelerate toward dolphins with the intent of creating a pressure wake to bow or wake-ride.
  • Separate mother/calf pairs.
  • Drive watercraft through or over groups of dolphins.

MANATEES

  • Obey posted signs for manatee slow-speed zones.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to see manatees in your path.
  • If you observe a manatee mating herd – several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female – watch from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer might disrupt the mating or endanger you; adult manatees typically weigh more than 1,000 pounds.
  • Never feed or water manatees as they will become habituated to people, which could put them at risk of injury.
  • Stow trash and line when underway. Marine debris that blows overboard can become ingested by or entangled around manatees.

SHOREBIRDS

  • If you notice birds screeching and “dive bombing,” they may be trying to scare you away from their eggs or chicks. When parents leave a nest to scare off perceived predators, eggs and chicks are vulnerable to real predators and the hot sun, which can destroy them in just a few minutes. Help the parents by staying well away from nesting areas.
  • Shorebirds fueling up to head to Central America across the Gulf of Mexico need all their energy to make the trip. Flying away from people who are chasing them makes the birds use up their energy, so please tell kids to let them rest.
  • Beachgoers should remain well away from bird nesting areas, which are marked with stakes and tape, to avoid frightening the parents off the nest and leaving the eggs open to heat, cold and predators.

ALL WILDLIFE

  • “Fish, swim and play from 50 yards away” when you’re near birds, dolphins, manatees or any wildlife.
  • To protect the Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife from pollution runoff, Manatee County prohibits fertilizer use from June 1 to Sept. 30, including on Anna Maria Island.
  • If you see fishing line, hooks, nets, plastic six-pack holders or other trash in the water or on the beach, please collect it and dispose of it in trash containers at beach accesses on your way home; it can entangle and injure sea turtles, birds and other wildlife.