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.
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.