You may not know it yet, but November is Manatee Awareness Month! These “sea cows” are on the move, migrating to warmer waters for winter’s chilly months.
Aquatic relatives of – not seals or walruses – but the elephant, manatees inhabit the coastal estuaries and rivers of the southeast United States. Averaging about 10 feet in length and generally weighing between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds, older individuals can grow to greater than 12 feet long and weigh over 2,000 pounds!
Sadly, the going is not good for these gentle giants. Year 2009 set a new record for manatee deaths, and unfortunately 2010 has already eclipsed that number. Already, at least 656 manatees have died in Florida – more than 13% of the known population!
The biggest immediate threat to these slow-moving surface dwellers is collisions with watercraft. But the greatest long-term threat to manatees involves the loss of warm-water habitat they need to survive.
According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Research Institute, 244 manatees have died from cold-related causes in 2010 – the majority from unusually cold weather in the early months of the year. And scientists predict that a large percentage of the manatee population will be lost in the next few decades when – believe it or not – aging electric power plants will be shutting down. Many manatees aggregate in the warm-water outfalls at these plants on cold winter days.
Fortunately, protections are in place for these unique creatures. Florida manatees are currently listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and by the state of Florida, and are also protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. But there is still work to be done. You can help by being an informed, cautious boater, on the lookout for these migrating mammals.
Celebrate Manatee Awareness Month: