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Safe at Sea: November is Manatee Awareness Month

By Staff | Nov 19, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED

Just like clockwork, during the first week of this month, manatees appeared in the canal. How uncanny that they’d make an appearance right outside the house as I was sitting down to write an article about how safe boating and manatee awareness go hand-in-hand – or should I say, “hand-in-flipper.”

Unfortunately, just minutes after hearing the familiar splashing and snorting of the manatees, a recreational boater came touring through the canal, heedless of both the “No Wake Zone” postings and the arrival of the manatees.

Sadly, Save the Manatee Club Director of Science and Conservation Dr. Katie Tripp has reported that in 2019, manatees are being killed by boats at an unprecedented rate: 93 reported though mid-July. Coincidentally, the rate of overall boating accidents and fatalities is on the rise. These final two months of the year do not bode well for manatees, as the temperatures fall and they seek warm waters. Fact: Manatees need water above 65 degrees to survive/thrive.

The solution to preventing boating strikes to manatees is simple: pay attention. Particularly in shallow estuaries, canals and waters, boaters must have a lookout – a person whose sole responsibility to keep their eyes on the water “looking out” for that snout above the water, or raised hump just inches above the waterline, or large brown shadow in the water, or “manatee swirl” created as it submerges.

While manatees are capable of (short) bursts of energy (as fast as 20 mph), they often do not hear approaching boaters. A slow-moving boat in a Wake Free Zone may well not be heard by a manatee, and as we all know, these animals are not known for their speed and agility.

Striking a manatee accidentally can certainly happen. What steps a boater takes when that unfortunate incident occurs is critical. Please report injured or distressed manatees as soon as possible. The easiest way to do so on board your boat is to VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio. You may also call FWC at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 239-985-9472.