Manatees on the move; boaters asked to slow down and watch out for the sea cows
November is Manatee Awareness Month, a critical time for boaters to be on the lookout for manatees as they travel to warmer water sites around the state.
Nowhere else in the state should people heed that as much as in Lee County, which leads the state in manatee fatalities with 104 reported deaths. That’s more than twice the number of sea cows killed in any other county in Florida.
As temperatures start to drop manatees travel to places where the water temperature is warmer than 68 degrees, places that include Florida springs, power plant discharge areas, and other warm-water sites to hang out there until temperatures rise.
Despite their large size, manatees can be hard to spot in the water, and being hit by a boat is the major threat to Florida manatees.
Despite their large size, manatees can be hard to spot in the water, and being hit by a boat is the major threat to Florida manatees — Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said at the beginning of this month that 489 manatees had died so far this year. That number is behind last year's pace when 727 manatees had died at this point.
“Manatees, though large, can be challenging to see in the water,” the wildlife commission said in a release. “Boaters and watercraft operators can better spot manatees by wearing polarized glasses, going slow, and abiding by all manatee protection zones.”
There had been 79 manatee deaths caused by watercraft strikes in Florida at the start of this month, which is ahead of last year's pace. In total, 800 manatees died last year.
Two years ago, 1,100 sea cows died in Florida waters. Starvation due to a lack of seagrasses to eat, as well as boat strikes, were leading causes in 2011.
During Manatee Awareness Month this year, because of the dismal mortality numbers in recent years, federal wildlife officials are reconsidering whether manatees should be classified as an endangered species.
If watching manatees as they congregate at warm-water sites, it is important to give them space. Disturbing manatees can cause them to swim out of protected areas and into potentially life-threatening cold water. It is illegal to bother, feed, disturb, or harm the animal.
If you see an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) so that trained responders can assist. Do not try to physically handle an injured or sick manatee yourself, which can cause more harm to the animal and potentially put you at risk of serious injury.
Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.
Sign up for WGCU's monthly environmental newsletter, the Green Flash, today.
WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you.
Copyright 2023 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.