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Watch for Manatees this Holiday Season

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Boat Safely this Holiday Season

Save the Manatee Club reminds boaters who will be recreating on Florida’s waterways this holiday season to watch out for endangered manatees as they migrate to warm-water sites when cooler weather sets in around the Sunshine State.

According to Dr. Katie Tripp, the Club’s Director of Science and Conservation, manatees migrate in response to changing water temperatures in order to avoid a potentially fatal condition known as cold stress syndrome. If cold fronts start coming in regularly, manatees will head for the warm-water sites on which they depend – areas like Blue Spring in Volusia, Kings Bay/Crystal River in Citrus County, and power plants in Brevard, Palm Beach, Broward, Lee, and Hillsborough Counties.

“However, if we don’t have any extreme cold fronts between now and Christmas, it wouldn’t be unexpected to see manatees still scattered throughout the state’s waterways,” said Dr. Tripp. Also, during or between cold fronts, manatees will look for opportunities to leave warm water sites in order to feed. “Logically, the same milder weather that might entice people to go boating could draw manatees away from warm-water sites and into their favorite feeding grounds, so we really must keep a vigilant watch for them while boating,” added Tripp.

Tripp urges boaters to “think like a manatee” when out enjoying Florida’s waters. “If it’s warm enough for you to be out on the waterways, then the manatees are likely to be out there as well.”

Regardless of the weather, Save the Manatee Club reminds the boating community to always follow posted speed zone signs.  If an area is designated as slow speed year-round for manatees, it means that manatees can be there at any time. Signs of manatee activity that boaters can watch out for include the manatee’s nose breaking the surface to breathe (which can look like a half-submerged coconut in the water), the manatee’s gray back that will reflect sunlight as it dives, a “footprint” or “boil” on the water’s surface created by the manatee’s tail as it swims, or a “mud plume” in a shallow area indicating one or more manatees feeding nearby.

Broward County experiences an influx of manatees during cold weather.  In the days before Christmas 2010, after severe and prolonged cold temperatures, more than 1,000 manatees were counted in Broward during an aerial survey.  

That’s the highest count ever observed there, according to Dr. Pat Quinn, who administers the manatee program for Broward County’s Natural Resources Planning and Management Division.  “The number of manatees in Broward’s waterways tends to pick up by mid-December when, more traditionally, there could be hundreds of manatees in the County,” said Quinn.

Deputy Brad Lemieux with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office patrols an area known as the “Manatee Loop” that extends from Port Everglades to the inland Lauderdale Power Plant.  The area is regulated for manatee protection and Deputy Lemieux is on the water to ensure that boaters are obeying posted speed zones and understand the consequences to manatees of not following the law.

“Thanksgiving signals the start of the holiday boating season, and if the conditions are windy, boaters are likely to stay in the Intracoastal Waterway and inland canals, the same waterways used by manatees,” he said.  “Even on a cold day, if people have family in town, they want to treat them to a boat ride. We try to keep as many deputies on the water as we can to help protect the manatees.”

From January 1st through November 25th, 2011, there have already been 81 documented statewide manatee deaths from boat strikes.  “It would be wonderful if we could avoid further boat-related deaths in 2011, but it will take the full support of the boating community to make this possible,” said Tripp.

Save the Manatee Club offers a variety of ways for the public to be involved with manatee protection.  Free public awareness waterway signage, banners, boat decals, and educational posters are produced by the Club.  Requests for them can be sent via e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling toll free at 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

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