It’s that time of year when the manatee population in the area increases. Between December and February is the peak season when manatees move further inland seeking warmer waters.
When the air and water temperature drop, the manatees move to Southwest Florida for refuge in warmer temperatures. Thus, this is also the time of year when accidental boat contact with manatees is common. The manatees are docile yet curious to a fault. They are easily lured by running water and the promise of a food source. As they are affectionately referred to, the sea cows aren’t creatures that travel in packs but will move in large informal groups as they seek food and balmy temps.
While it’s exciting to encounter these creatures in nature, there are some things to keep in mind this time of year to ensure their safety and yours.
Many have seen Manatees in marinas along the Manatee River. While this is a unique chance to see the creatures up close, do not feed them or lure them to your vessel. Leave them alone; it puts them at risk, and because of their curious nature, they will most definitely want to check out the food supply and running water. If you plan to take out your vessel, keep the creatures in mind as you navigate the waterways surrounding the docks.
Boaters are also cautioned to look for greater numbers of manatees moving into the waterways. When the weather is cool, manatees flock to the warm-water refuges. When there are warm temperatures, manatees move into surrounding canals and the Intracoastal Waterway to forage, increasing the likelihood of manatee and boater interaction.
When navigating waterways with manatee activity, progress at slower speeds and keep a keen lookout for them. As many as twenty-five percent of manatee deaths have been from power watercraft, or one out of four have been scarred from power watercraft, especially from propellers.
Here are a few more things to keep in mind or reiterate:
• Slow down—particularly in shallower depths of less than ten feet.
• Keep your vessel clear of areas that are concentrated with manatees.
• Stay in marked channels where the water is deeper
• If going over seagrasses in shallower waters, use caution as you cannot see what is below the grasses. Use a pole, paddle, or trolling motor when going over the foliage.
• Do not speed through the areas that are marked as manatee zones. Proceed with caution.
• Do not try to capture, touch, or hold a manatee.
• Do not chase manatees, whether by boat or if you are swimming.
Lastly, did you know that from November 15 through March 31, boaters are required to go at idle speed when in manatee areas? That means when you are in those areas, you are required to go slower than the slow speed where you have no wake and are level in the water, and your speed is such that you can easily maintain safe steerage way. You MUST watch for manatees or other potential hazards in the Idle Speed Zone.
For more information and a great site to visit and obtain information about these beautiful creatures, go to www.savethemanatee.org.