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Be aware on local waterways: Manatees, mating herds typical

May 19, 2020
Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Springtime inspires mating seasons for a variety of wildlife, from alligators to wading birds. And Florida's state marine mammal - the manatee - is a highlighted species that starts to see sparks fly.

"We've had a considerably warm late winter and spring," Tarpon Bay Explorers On-site Manager and Naturalist Adam Sauerland said. "Manatees thrive in warm water. February and March saw water temperatures reaching into the low 80s. Though there is no specific mating season for manatee, spring and summer there is definitely a spike."

A subspecies of the West Indian manatee, the Florida manatee is labeled as threatened. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there are as many as 6,500 manatees in the southeastern United States, which is an upgrade considering its population was estimated to be about 1,200 when aerial surveys began in 1991.

Article Photos

Manatee kisses in the harbor at Tarpon Bay off Sanibel.

"Manatees have been working hard to maintain their populations," he suggested. "Throughout quarantine and our safer-at-home orders, I would see manatees mating from dawn till dusk."

Tarpon Bay is a slow-speed, minimum wake zone. A significant portion of the bay is also covered with sea grasses - a manatee's preferred food item. Bay waters are a paradise for the beloved sea cow.

"A silver lining for the manatee during this pandemic is that there was less boat traffic all over the area," Sauerland said. "Less boat traffic allows for less disturbance and more time for manatees to do their thing."

Fact Box


- Look, but don't touch manatees. Also, 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.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission



- Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.

- Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.

- Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.

- Follow posted manatee zones while boating.

- 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.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Manatees cannot only be found in back bay waters like the Pine Island Sound, they can eventually make their way to the beaches.

"I have also seen mating herds off beaches on the island," he said.

Boaters should always be aware of slow speed and manatee zones. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission determined that there were 124 manatee deaths due to watercraft in 2018, according to a recently released preliminary mortality report.

"Regardless of how you enjoy the water around the island, respecting all kinds of wildlife is important," Sauerland said. "Education is one of the best tools to let people know what's going on, what to do and, most importantly, what not to do."

Tarpon Bay Explorers offers a variety of tours and the chance to view wildlife in an ethical fashion. Manatees are commonly observed on its Nature & Sealife Cruises and occasionally on its kayak tours.

The FWC's viewing guidelines for manatees can be found on its Website at

"I think everyone can agree that we want to ensure we can see manatees in the wild for centuries to come," he said.

Tarpon Bay Explorers is the concession to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge. It offers educational and recreation opportunities, giving back 12 percent to national refuges countrywide.

Currently, the company is only providing rentals for kayaks, canoes, SUPs, bikes and pontoons between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. The boat ramp is open during the same time frame.

For more information, visit or call 239-472-8900.

Source: Tarpon Bay Explorers



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