© 2023 WFSU Public Media
WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Florida Manatees In Danger From Boaters Following Especially Deadly Year

Manatees gather in warm water at Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River in March, 2015. Kayakers can be seen in the background, separated from the manatees.
FWC's Flickr

It’s been a tough year for Florida manatees. Red tide and cold snaps have led to their highest death rate since 2013, and that death rate could still go up. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Ron Mezich  says during winter, manatees have to migrate to warmer waters, like springs, and even thermal-polluting power plants, to avoid freezing to death. During those moves, manatees are more vulnerable to being killed by boats. But Mezich says vigilant boaters can protect the species. 

“Manatees leave a sign, when they’re swimming along. They leave what we call a ‘tail sign’ which is basically circular patterns on the water which will tell you which way they’re swimming and where they are. And then they’ll come up for breath occasionally. And you have to be really aware, because it looks like a coconut floating on the water. They just stick their nose up, with two little nostrils sticking up, they take a breath, then they go back down,” Mezich says.

A manatee in Three Sisters Springs in March 2015 comes up for air.
Credit FWC's Flickr
A manatee in Three Sisters Springs in March 2015 comes up for air.

Mezich recommends boaters drive slow, wear polarized sunglasses, and observe the animals from a distance. He says more than 150 manatees died this year due to red tide alone.

“So that’s been a big pressure on the population down there, and then last winter was a pretty hard winter. Again, we had somewhere, 70 or 80 manatee deaths due to cold weather. So, when you get both of those in one year, our numbers are going to be higher than typically what we see,” he says. 

Mezich says without manatees’ foraging habits, ecosystems across the state would weaken. November is Manatee Awareness Month.

Eleanor Clark is a recent graduate from Florida State University with degrees in International Affairs and Creative Writing. Before interning at WFSU, she spent time in New York City as the Civic Engagement Coordinator for Columbia University’s high school program. Some of Eleanor’s favorite things are watching the Great British Bake Off, eating soup dumplings, and spending time with her dog, Cooper. Follow her on Twitter: @Nell_Clark_