No memorials for manatees
PHOTO PROVIDED BY MOTE MARINE LABORATORY
Boaters beware. Manatee mating herds are
frequenting shallow waters off Anna Maria Island.
It was a rare and breathtaking sight.
Nine manatees off Bradenton Beach were visible from the shoreline in shallow water as they traveled slowly south, to the delight of the beachgoers who followed them.
A few days later, 13 manatees were spotted off Holmes Beach in ankle-deep water.
It's mating season, and with the unknown long-term affects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and last year's count of Florida manatees decreasing by 236 individuals to only 4,840 in state waters, it's more important than ever to steer clear of them and let nature take its course.
That's especially true for boaters this Memorial Day weekend.
Boats and personal watercraft, which can slice and stun the air-breathing marine mammals, will be traveling Manatee County's waters while the county's namesakes are swimming, resting, feeding and mating just under the surface.
Last week, a young male manatee calf nicknamed Charlie was brought to the South Florida Museum's Parker Manatee Aquarium in Bradenton for rehabilitation after being rescued from Gasparilla Sound with his mother, who died from injuries from a watercraft.
Last year, 15 manatee deaths were documented in Manatee County – four from watercraft strikes, seven from cold stress, and four from undetermined
causes. Both boaters and swimmers should avoid mating herds of manatees - one female and several males often gather in shallow water, sometimes appearing stranded on sandbars and beaches. "If you see a mating herd, keep a safe distance and do not approach, touch or disturb these manatees. Approaching a group of large marine mammals is never a safe thing to do, but when they are distracted by romance, it is even more unsafe," says Dr. Katie Tripp, Director of Science and Conservation for the Save the Manatee Club. It's also illegal, she adds.
Free, yellow boating banners that say "Please Slow, Manatees Below" are available from the club to warn other boaters when manatees are sighted in the area. Free shoreline property signs and boating decals also are available by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, regular mail at 500 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland, FL 32751, or by calling 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).
If you see an injured, dead, tagged or orphaned manatee or a manatee being harassed, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone, or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio. Also call if you strike a manatee; amnesty applies if you were operating your boat lawfully and the strike was an accident.
Let's be careful out there, so that others can enjoy awesome manatee sightings in the future.