November is Manatee Awareness Month: Boat Slow and Aware to keep Manatees Safe
Florida’s Nature Coast is blessed with an abundance of natural springs, which provide a year-round 72-degree aquatic environment. As temperatures drop, manatees will move from the cooler Gulf of Mexico waters into our local springs. This makes it super-important for everyone to keep an eye out for manatees as they travel through the rivers and into the springs.
We get manatees year-round in the Weeki Wachee River, Anclote River, Homosassa River, Chassahowitzka River, and Kings Bay and Crystal River. It is part of what makes Florida’s Nature Coast such a wonderful place.
November is Manatee Awareness Month and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding people on the water to slow down and look out for migrating manatees this time of year.
The Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) is a native species found in many of Florida’s waterways.
The FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to investigate and respond to an elevated number of deaths along the Atlantic coast of Florida. The FWC and USFWS take manatee conservation seriously by actively implementing science-based conservation measures that are making a difference for manatees and habitat. Learn more about how officials are responding to this event by visiting MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Learn More” in the banner at the top of the page.
A Keystone Species
Manatees are one of Florida’s keystone species whose behavior can alert researchers to environmental and habitat changes that may otherwise go unnoticed in Florida’s waterways for extended periods of time.
As water temperatures cool this season, manatees are naturally migrating to warmer waters around the Nature Coast. Go slow and look out below to allow them to swim safely.
While the sea cows are large, their grey color and their elliptical shape can make it difficult to see these gentle giants in the water. That is why it is important to follow guidelines, slowing down in all manatee protection zones.
Be on the lookout for manatee encounters while boating, wear polarized glasses, and always give them plenty of space.
Manatee Protection Zones are Off-Limits to Humans
Protection zones are marked by waterway signs and maps of manatee protection zones are available online at MyFWC.com/Manatee by clicking on “Data and Maps.”
Manatees depend on water being generally warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit to survive the winter, so in the fall they migrate to Florida springs, power plant discharges, and other warm-water sites.
Remember that disturbing manatees at warm-water sites can cause them to swim out of those protected areas and into potentially life-threatening cold water.
Slow Down to Save Manatee Lives
During the colder months, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being injured or killed by motorboats or personal watercraft. Boat strikes continue to be a major threat to Florida manatees.
FWC law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to inform boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take appropriate enforcement actions. Boaters are reminded to abide by the regulatory signs they see on the water.
No Entry-Manatee Refuge areas have been identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as crucial for manatee survival. Remember – Look but don’t touch manatees.
Crystal River and Kings Bay Area supports Wintering Manatees
The Crystal River and Kings Bay area is the only area in Florida where swimmers are monitored around manatees. Viewing guidelines and sanctuary rules must be followed. Please respect the directions from manatee volunteers and law enforcement officers who are looking out for the best interest of manatees in this area.
The manatees that stay in this location need the warm waters of the springs in order to survive the cold winter. Please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service site for more information about the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge in Crystal River, Florida.
Let the Professionals handle a Distressed, Stranded, or Dead Manatee
Physically handling a distressed or stranded manatee might cause more harm. Instead, report injured, distressed, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone so trained responders can assist.
The FWC takes manatee conservation seriously by actively implementing science-based conservation measures that are making a difference for manatees and habitats. Learn more about how officials are responding to this event by visiting MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Learn More”.
Knowing your Manatee Manners is Important
While visiting an area where manatees are, it is important to know the proper etiquette for interacting with them. Remember, these are wild animals, protected by Federal and State law. It is always a good idea to use a guide for your first visit to experience interacting with manatees.
Several years ago, it was common to actually touch a manatee, but this is discouraged now. Passive interaction is the right way to visit with a sea cow. In that spirit, please remember the following Manatee Manners:
- Look, but don’t touch manatees.
- Don’t feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, they can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, which may make them more susceptible to harm.
- Do not pursue or chase a manatee if you see one while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving, paddling or operating a boat.
- Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
- If a manatee avoids you, do not chase the animal for a closer view.
- Give manatees space to move. Avoid isolating or singling out an individual manatee from its group and do not separate a cow and her calf.
- Keep hands and objects to yourself. Don’t attempt to snag, hook, hold, grab, pinch, hit or ride a manatee.
- Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears nearby. The manatee may be resting and may surface without being aware of your presence. Noise and activity may startle the animal awake, which may put it in harm’s way if it is frightened and leaves the area.
- If the site you visit allows in-water activities near manatees, use snorkel gear and float at the surface of the water to passively observe manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear or other devices may cause manatees to leave the area.
Florida Fish & Wildlife has a lot of Manatee Resources
Resources for boaters, educators, and other interested members of the public are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee.
What should you do if you see a manatee? The Viewing Guidelines page provides helpful tips on respectfully viewing manatees, additional guidelines for boat and personal watercraft operators, and information on what you can do to help these amazing aquatic mammals.
Get this year’s Manatee Decal or License Plate to Support Manatee Research, Rescue, and Management
Are you interested in supporting the FWC’s manatee research, rescue, and management efforts? You can purchase a Florida manatee license plate or donate $5 to receive a collectible FWC manatee decal. Both are available from your local Tax Collector’s office.
Best Nature Coast Locations to Meet a Manatee
Well, wherever you are on Florida’s Nature Coast, manatees are a common sight. They are particularly numerous in the winter months when they seek the “warmer waters” of natural springs. The 72-degree water is warm for them, so manatees are often seen in our spring-fed rivers and headwaters of the Gulf.
- Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
- Three Sisters Springs – while closed to boaters and swimmers,
- Weeki Wachee River
- Mud River
- Anclote River
- Linda Pedersen Park
- Chassahowitzka River
- Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
- Weeki Wachee State Park
- Pithlachascotee River
Which ones did I miss? Add to the list in the comments below.
Feature image courtesy of Hunter Springs Kayaks in Crystal River.