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Boaters beware: Summer means manatees are on the move in local waters

By Staff | Jul 1, 2020

SAVE?THE MANATEE CLUB Manatee Alice with her calf.

Although summer may feel different this year, it is still a regular busy season for migratory manatees. With temperatures heating up for the upcoming July 4th holiday weekend, manatees are on the move, and Save the Manatee Club reminds boaters and vacationers throughout the southeast to keep a watchful eye for this imperiled species.

In the summer months, manatees can be found beyond their winter sanctuaries in Florida. They travel freely around coastal waters in Alabama as well as in Georgia and South Carolina. A few manatees have even been spotted as far west as Texas and as far north as Massachusetts. While these further destinations are relatively rare, it is still important for boaters throughout the Gulf and East Coasts to be mindful of manatees, especially in certain habitats.

Designated manatee protection zones in Florida can signify areas where manatees have been regularly documented, but the slow-moving mammals can be found in all types of rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal ecosystems. Manatees are more likely to prefer shallower waters (about 3-7 feet deep) and areas with aquatic vegetation, like seagrass beds. Boating slowly in these areas and looking for snouts, backs, tails and flippers can help you spot manatees.

Florida residents and visitors should report dead, orphaned, beached, entangled, tagged, harassed or sick manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). But any manatees outside of Florida should be reported to local wildlife officials as well, even if it is simply a sighting.

“Thanks to our citizen science data, we now know that manatees are regular seasonal visitors to Alabama and the northern Gulf,” explained Elizabeth Hieb, research technician at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. The DISL’s Manatee Sight-ing Network has already received sighting reports this year from Alabama, Missis-sippi, Louisiana, and Texas. “This data is important to help inform conservation and recovery actions for manatees across their entire range in the southeastern U.S.”

Sightings can be reported to the DISL at 1-866-493-5803.

Before heading out on the water this weekend, review how to determine if a manatee is in trouble and where to call for help in your area at savethemana-tee.org/rescue. Save the numbers or take a picture of wildlife reporting info to have it handy in your phone.

If you live or boat in Gulf Coast or southeastern states where manatees are found, you can also request free resources, like boating safety packets, to keep on board or awareness signs to hang on your dock, at savethemanatee.org/resources. The boating safety packets contain a waterproof decal with the number for reporting injured manatees, a waterproof manatee protection tips card, and a banner to warn other boaters if manatees are spotted in the area. Watch a short video with more manatee protection tips at savethemanatee.org/boatsafely.

The Save the Manatee Club was founded in 1981 by singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett and former Florida Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to protect manatees and their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the club’s efforts, go to savethemanatee.org or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).