Status of the Manatees

manateesWe’re in the midst of manatee season down here in South Florida. The season begins November 15 and goes until March 31. This year, the government will make a decision on whether or not the manatees will still have an endangered species status. Over the years, the manatees numbers have grown, which is why this change of status may occur. Right now, the manatees’ numbers are around 6,300 in Florida; back in 1991, this number was at 1,267. In the last 26 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local governments have helped create more than 50 manatee protection zones, boating rules, and restricted construction of docks in certain habitats.

Around 95 manatees were killed in 2016 by boats and other watercrafts. With such a high number of manatees being killed last year and this season, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urges boaters to be extra careful.

There is a proposal to change the manatees from endangered to threatened species. However, many scientists are opposed to it because it would remove federal protection from manatees in the Caribbean, whose numbers aren’t as high as the ones living in Florida. They also think loss of seagrass habitation, climate change, and increases in Florida’s human population will lower the manatees numbers again. They believe there may not be enough progress to demote them to a threatened species. The executive director of the Save the Manatee Club feels the change to threatened from endangered could lead to fewer manatee-safety zones and less caring with boaters.

As of now during the season, slower speed limits go in effect for boaters. Boaters are asked to wear polarized sunglasses to better spot manatees and abide by the speed limits put in place.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, manatees are a “keystone species;” their behaviors can alert researcher to environmental changes. The Everglades Park monitors the manatees by tagging them.

Glide by the Manatees

Although not guaranteed, you may get the chance to see a manatee on an airboat tour through the Everglades. If not, don’t worry there are so many other animals and marine life you can spot on a ride. Book an airboat adventure today with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Click here or call 800-368-0065 to book your trip.

West Indian Manatee: The Everglades’ Resident Gentle Giant

ManateeThe West Indian manatee is certainly a local favorite, these gentle creatures having affectionately earned themselves the nickname of “sea cow.” The West Indian manatee can be further classified into two subgroups, the Florida Manatee and the Caribbean Manatee, both of which are currently on the endangered species list.

The West Indian manatee is a mammal which has completely adapted to living underwater, and like other manatee species, has no hind limbs. The average adult West Indian manatee is roughly 12 feet long and weighs around 1,300 pounds, with females tending to be larger than males. Although manatees are easily the largest animals found in the Everglades, with the largest Florida manatee on record reaching nearly 4,000 pounds, they are extremely docile creatures, very gentle and very shy.

Manatees are not territorial, and have very few, if any, natural predators. The only aquatic species large enough to take on a manatee – sharks, killer whales – very rarely share habitats with manatees, so in general, manatees have never been known to shown predator-avoidance behavior. Manatees themselves, though they occasionally feed on small fish and crustaceans, are largely a vegetarian species, with sea grass being their largest source of food.

West Indian manatees are extremely vulnerable to their environments, and many die during periods of cold weather because the thermal shock shuts down their digestive systems in temperatures below 68 degrees. Because of this, the loss of warm-water habitats poses the biggest threat to declining manatee populations, though as always, humans have their share in the responsibility as well. If you have ever seen manatees in the wild, then you may have noticed large, deep scars on their backs, the result of being hit by propellers as boats pass over them too closely and too quickly for these slow-moving creatures to avoid.

There are strong efforts today to preserve manatee populations throughout Florida, as these gentle giants have almost become a sort of mascot for the state. A variety of state, federal, and non-profit programs are already set up to protect these gentle creatures, and fortunately, numbers are on a slight rise.

To fully understand the beauty and importance of these animals, many residents and visitors head out on the water for an Everglades tour. From an airboat ride, you and your family can view manatees, alligators, crocodiles, and plenty of fish and birds, and you’ll no doubt be left with a love and appreciation for all things Everglades.