November to mark Manatee Awareness Month
November is an annual celebration and a dedication to manatee conservation in Florida. As manatees seek warm water sites during the cooler winter season, residents, visitors and the boating community are reminded to watch for manatees and help safeguard them as they freely move about Florida’s shallow, slow-moving rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal water ecosystems.
Record watercraft mortality this year, along with more than 180 manatees lost to red tide, remain two of the greatest threats to the manatee population. Red tide acts as a neurotoxin in manatees, giving them seizures that can result in drowning without human intervention. Manatees may exhibit muscle twitches, lack of coordination, labored breathing and an inability to maintain body orientation. If rescued in time, most manatees can recover, so report a sick manatee immediately to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 888-404-3922, or send a text message or email to Tip@MyFWC.com; use VHF Channel 16 on a marine radio.
In total, 703 manatees have died so far this year from Jan. 1 through Oct. 12 from all causes. Cold stress during the winter months takes a toll on the manatees as they are a subtropical species and cannot tolerate prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Other causes of human-related mortalities includes: ingestion of litter, fish hooks and monofilament line; entanglement in crab trap lines; and being crushed and/or drowned in canal locks and flood control structures.
Many seasonal manatee zones in Florida come into effect in November, and boaters are urged to pay close attention to posted signage indicating slow or idle speeds. Waterway users should also keep their distance from migrating manatees or manatees congregated at warm-water sites during the winter to avoid possible harassment. Never separate a mother from her calf as calves depend on their mothers for up to two years. For videos, tips and resources for boaters, visit savethemanatee.org/boatertips.
The public can be actively engaged in manatee and habitat protection by obtaining the club’s free waterway signage, boating banners and decals, waterway cards and educational posters. The shoreline property signs warn boaters to slow down for manatees and feature the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission’s hotline number to report sick, injured, orphaned or harassed manatees. The club also produces family-friendly outdoor signs for state, municipal and county parks, marinas and other sites where human-manatee interactions are a problem. View the free public awareness resources at savethemanatee.org/freematerials. To obtain the materials, email email@example.com or call 800-432-JOIN (5646) and request the resources.
The public is also encouraged to visit Save the Manatee Club’s Blue Spring webcams at ManaTV.org to see manatees in real-time once manatee season is underway or on archived video. The webcams have become popular with viewers across the globe and have allowed the club to monitor manatee behavior for research and health-related conditions. The site also features researcher Wayne Hartley’s daily blog on manatees visiting the spring. He is the club’s manatee specialist and a former park ranger at Blue Spring State Park. Hartley has been researching the Blue Spring manatees since 1978.
Another way to help is by joining the club’s Adopt-A-Manatee program. Each “adoptive parent” learns about the species by following the real, living manatee they have chosen through adoption materials and follow-up newsletters the club provides. To learn more, visit savethemanatee.org/adopt.
For more information on the Save the Manatee Club, visit savethemanatee.org.