It’s been a good year for Florida’s manatees. Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission counted 4,831 of the marine mammals during a recent aerial survey. That’s the third highest on record.
But boaters and anglers can help keep those numbers up by being on the lookout for these gentle sea creatures. Cold fronts put manatees on the move looking for warmer water in places such as freshwater springs and canals near power plants.
Adult manatees, which can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, may look blubbery, but water temperatures of 68 degrees and lower can be harmful and even deadly to these marine mammals.
During the winter months, boaters should be aware of seasonal slow zones and signs of manatees. Boaters should post a lookout on the bow to scan for repetitive swirl patterns, a mud trail, or a snout or fluke breaking the water's surface.
Boaters can also help these creatures by keeping to marked channels, wearing polarized sunglasses to improve vision in the water, obeying posted speeds, and using poles, paddles or trolling motors when traveling close to manatees. For a complete list of manatee regulations, go to www.flrules.org.
This is also the time of year to swim with manatees. Manatees spend about one-third of their day eating, one-third sleeping and one-third socializing with other manatees.
These animals have distinct personalities. Some like humans; others don't. Be aware of this in the water. If a manatee swims away, don't chase it.
Give the manatee some space. If one does approach and you feel the urge to pet it, resist, because it is a fine line that separates a stroke from a poke. And whatever you do, don't grab it or hold it.
Manatees share a common ancestry with the elephant and every day consume 10 to 15 percent of their body weight - which typically reaches about 1,000 pounds. So where there are aquatic plants, there are manatees. Florida has plenty of vegetation to satisfy their hunger. So don't feed the manatees. And while the little ones may be cute, don't try to separate a calf from its mother, or an individual from the herd.