Boaters beware — Manatees, mating herds typical in local waterways
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.
“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.”
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 myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelines.
“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 www.tarponbayexplorers.com or call 239-472-8900.
Source: Tarpon Bay Explorers