GENTLE GIANTS OF THE GULF

The issue: Manatee season begins today.

Our opinion: Proceed with caution to protect the threatened species in Citrus waters.

As the temperatures drop and winter months are ushered in, so come an influx of gentle West Indian manatees to Citrus’ Gulf waterways.

Manatee season begins today, Nov. 15, 2020, and lasts through March 31, 2021, in which citizens and visitors to the Nature Coast are advised to use extreme caution when venturing out on the water to avoid unnecessary manatee deaths.

The aquatic mammals take shelter from frigid temperatures in the 72 degree spring waters of Citrus to keep warm and bear offspring before the onset of spring. They are unable to thermoregulate their body temperature in cold water, and to avoid cold stress, migrate to our stunning local springs.

With this increase in local manatee populations comes a responsibility as a citizen, and even as a tourist to the area, to protect the threatened species from unnecessary harm.

The largest cause of manatee injuries and deaths are humans, usually by boat strike. Manatees feed and rest in shallow waters, which make them vulnerable to cuts from propellers, impacts from hulls and lower units of boat motors. In short, we are their main threat to survival.

If you plan to be out on the water this season, practice caution and help save manatee lives with these simple habits:

• Look, but don’t touch the manatees. Passively observe.

• When swimming, float at the surface of the water. Do not pursue them. Give them space, and keep your hands to yourself. Avoid excessive noise and splashing.

• Do not feed manatees.

• If a manatee avoids you, you should avoid it. Give manatees space to move.

• Wear polarized sunglasses to better see manatees out on the water.

• Don’t litter, as manatees may ingest or become entangled in debris.

• Stay in deep water whenever possible. Avoid boating in shallow areas.

• Pay attention to posted signs for slow and idle speeds. Do not enter areas designated as “no entry-manatee refuge” zones.

• If you see a manatee, stay at least 50 feet away while operating a powerboat.

It’s imperative that all enjoying Citrus waters work to protect the native species so long inhabiting the area. They are one of the most unique attributes of Citrus County, and without them, we’d lose a great attractor and a gem to the Nature Coast ecosystem.

Learn more about manatees in Citrus County at www.fws.gov/refuge/crystal_river.

To report a distressed or dead manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922) or send a text to tip@myfwc.com.