Manatee season is in full effect in South Florida. This campaign is called “Operation Mermaid”. During this period, a tremendous percentage of manatees swim to South Florida for the warmer waters.
Manatees are large, herbivorous marine mammals also known as sea cows. Their bodies taper to a flat, paddle like tail. They have two forelimbs, called flippers, with three to four nails on each flipper. Their head and face are furrowed with whiskers on the snout.
The manatee needs warmth when surrounding water temperatures drop below 68 degrees. The Florida manatee lives in brackish, salt and fresh water coastal areas around Florida, such as Stuart, Jupiter, Delray and Boca Raton. The plant eating mammal surfaces every three to five minutes to breathe air.
The adult manatee weihs around 1,000 pounds and is about 10 feet long. Manatees reach sexual maturity at 4–7 years, and the female reproductive rate is an average of one birth every two to three years. Calves remain with their mothers for up to 2 1/2 years. At birth, calves weigh about 60-80 pounds. Like all mammals, it has hair on its body, nurses its young, and is warm-blooded. Manatees can live to be about 50 to 60 years old.
The graceful sea cow affects the habitat it feeds in, particularly sea grass beds. They generally feed on the edges of sparse sea grass beds and return to the same vicinity year to year. They eat a large variety of submerged, emergent, and floating plants and can consume 10-15% of their body weight in vegetation daily. Most of their time is spent eating, resting and traveling.
The gentle manatee has no natural predators or enemies. A small percentage of manatee mortality is attributed to natural causes such as cold, stress, and disease. A high number of additional fatalities are from human-related causes. Most human-related manatee fatalities occur from collisions with watercraft. At last count in January, 2014, the minimum population of the endangered species is 4,831.
In the United States manatees are protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 also protects West Indian (Florida manatee) manatees. Violations of these federal or state laws can be met with civil or criminal convictions associated with monetary fines and/or imprisonment. Over the years county governments have worked with the state to develop site-specific boat speed zones to reduce the likelihood of watercraft collisions and to implement comprehensive manatee protection plans (MPP) for each county.
Be aware of your actions, especially near water.
- Be a responsible boater. Wear polarized sunglasses to aid in spotting manatees and sea grass beds. Please be a cautious boater and observe “manatee zone” speed in areas that manatees frequent.
- Don't litter; fishing line, rope, trash, etc. can entangle and kill manatees and other animals.
- If you own a home or business near the water, reduce the amount of fertilizer used. Fertilizer causes increased algae growth on sea grasses. Also, be aware of any other pollutants that might enter the water; even dirt can cloud the water, reducing sunlight that results in reduced sea grass growth.
If you see an injured manatee please call the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission at 1-888-404-3922 (FFWC) or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.