I think I’ve just been busted by the Save the Manatee Club.
Last month, I blogged about how I had an encounter with a friendly manatee in the Gulf of Mexico off the shores of Fort Myers Beach. Knowing there were a handful of manatees swimming about the shallow waters, I wandered out to chest-deep water in the area they were spotted to see how close I could get, and before I knew it one of the mantees swam up behind me, knocking my legs out from under me and swimming right below me as my body rose above it. It lasted just a few seconds but was, for me, a very unexpected, funny and awesome experience.
A couple weeks later, I received an email from the Save the Manatee Club containing an article titled “Keep the Manatees Wild. Do Not Disturb.” I immediately thought to myself, uh oh, did I do something wrong that prompted this communication? Although the email did not include any personal message, I could only think of one reason the Save the Manatee Club decided to send it me out of the blue. Had I unwittingly disturbed these manatees which were just minding their own business when I wandered into the water? The article by Katie Tripp, director of science and conservation for the club, made it clear:
“We’ve all heard the stories, seen the online videos, or perhaps done it ourselves – thrown a head of lettuce to a manatee, stuck a running hose over the side of the dock, or approached a group of manatees in shallow water. Many people don’t realize that such acts are not only detrimental to wild manatees, but also illegal. Manatees are protected by two federal laws that prohibit harming individuals of these species. These laws are the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The ESA defines harm to include ‘significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns, including breeding, feeding, or sheltering.’ “
OK, I thought to myself. I certainly wasn’t feeding the manatees or doing anything I thought would harm them. I was just sharing some water space with them. But now I’m seeing this in a slightly different light.
According to Dr. Tripp, when manatees are given food or water, their natural behavior is changed; their feeding patterns are disrupted; and their travel and migration may also be affected.
She also offered this insight: “When manatees are congregated in shallow water during the warm months of the year, most often they are engaging in mating activity. When people swarm around these manatees, trying to get a closer look, they run the risk of disturbing the mating behavior of an endangered species, which is also against the law. While it can be exciting to see a manatee up close, it is really important to think about the consequences of our actions. You may have just been trying to get a quick photo, but did you just interrupt a male manatee that was getting ready to mate? As with all things in life, our choices have consequences, and we need to be aware of these implications.”
Of course, I have no idea whether the manatees I saw in the water were mating or just happily checking out the weird tourists. But thanks to Dr. Tripp I at least am more aware of the need to keep a distance and help protect these amazing sea creatures. And I encourage everyone to follow the advice of the Save the Manatee Club and Do Not Disturb!
For more manatee protection tips for divers and swimmers, visit Save the Manatee Club’s website at: