It’s been a tough couple of years for Florida manatees.
So far this year, 714 manatees have died, compared to 538 in 2017, out of about 6,000 estimated to live in Florida waters, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
Red tide has been active in Gulf and inland waters in Southwest Florida since last October, killing 67 of the 714 manatees, with red tide suspected in the deaths of 121 others. Nine were found in Manatee County.
The red tide neurotoxin causes manatees to have seizures that can result in drowning. If rescued in time, most manatees can recover, so report a sick manatee (muscle twitches, lack of coordination, labored breathing, an inability to maintain body orientation) immediately to the FWC Hotline at 1-888-404-3922, or email [email protected] Use VHF Channel 16 on a marine radio.
To survive, manatees in Florida waters also have to avoid eating red tide-poisoned seagrass, flee cold water, escape from people who climb on them and ride on their backs, and dodge boat propellers.
Last year, 107 manatees died from boat strikes in Florida last year, with 98 so far this year, according to the FWC.
Boats accidents prompted former Florida Gov. Bob Graham to make November Manatee Awareness Month in 1979.
As the official state marine mammals head from the Gulf of Mexico, rivers and bays to the warmer winter waters of springs, boaters should be careful to note speed zones that take effect in November.
To help protect manatees, follow these tips:
- 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.
Contact the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922):
- If you see a manatee with a pink or red (fresh) wound.
- If the manatee is tilting to one side, unable to submerge or seems to have trouble breathing.
- If you see someone separating a mother from her calf.
- If you see a manatee calf by itself with no adults around for an extended period of time.
- If you see someone harassing a manatee in any way.
- If you see boaters speeding in a protected area.
- If you see a manatee entangled in monofilament, crab-trap lines or other debris.
- If you see a dead manatee.
Free shoreline property signs, boating banners, decals, waterway cards and educational posters are available at Save the Manatee Club.