THE ISSUE: Manatee season begins.

OUR OPINION: Use ample caution when out on the water.

It’s that time of year — Florida’s manatee season officially began last week. As weather cools to frigid winter temperatures, the gentle West Indian manatees of the Gulf migrate to the springs of Citrus, taking shelter in the 72 degree water to mate and have babies before spring.

Through the end of manatee season on March 31, citizens and visitors to the area are urged to use extreme caution when out on the water to avoid unnecessary manatee deaths; humans are the largest cause of manatee injuries and deaths, usually by boat strike.

If you plan to be on the water this season, practice these tips to help save manatee lives:

  • Pay attention to posted signs indicating slow and idle speeds.
  • Keep ample distance from warm water sites filled with congregating manatees, and if you see a manatee, stay at least 50 feet away from it while operating a powerboat.
  • Stay in deep water whenever possible; avoid boating in shallow areas and over seagrass beds.
  • Do not feed manatees.
  • Observe manatees, but do not touch them. Do not pursue them. Give them space, and keep your hands to yourself. Manatees are protected by federal law, making it illegal to harass, hunt capture or kill them.
  • Avoid excessive noise and splashing.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to better see manatees.
  • Do not litter, as manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in debris, leading to injury or death.
  • Signs of a manatee in the water include a swirl on the surface, seeing a snout, tail or flipper emerge, and hearing the animal when it comes up to breathe.
  • Boaters can download the free “Manatee Alert” app to get maps on speed zones and help report a distressed or injured manatee. To download the application, visit http://bit.ly/15EYen6.

More boating safety tips can be found at www.savethemanatee.org/boatertips.htm. To learn more about manatees in Crystal River, visit www.fws.gov/refuge/crystal_river.

To report an injured or dead manatee, call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). Be ready to give as much information as possible, including the exact location of the animal, size and more.

(2) comments

Miuke Nelson

and when you are in the water, please follow these guidelines from Fish and Wildlife: https://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelines/

CitrusCo Citizen

Also, fishermen (and fisherwomen): 1. Do not discard damaged fishing line and hooks into the water. Try to retrieve broken fishing line and hooks. 2. Do not fish in the Manatee Sanctuaries or near feeding or resting manatees in King's Bay, Crystal River and other rivers like the Chaz or Homosassa, or the canals. 3. SLOW DOWN and post a lookout on the bow for manatees. 4. Don't toss out an anchor--instead lower it slowly. Same with pulling it up. 5. If you accidentally think you've hit a manatee, see one hit, or find an injured one, call Fish and Wildlife--they have a rescue team and some manatees are actually rescued, rehabilitated and released successfully 6. Teach these rules to your children, guests, and fellow fishermen. We can all work together to maintain these wonderful wild animals for future generations.

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