Manatee Sightings in the Panhandle

Manatee Sightings in the Panhandle

On May 7, 2017 Marsha Stanton spotted a manatee swimming by her pier in Big Lagoon near Pensacola. I am sure this was an exciting moment and Marsha was interested in letting someone know so that the unusual encounter could be logged.

Manatee swimming by a pier near Pensacola.
Photo: Marsha Stanton

There are four species of manatee in the world; the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) is the one native to the South Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf region.  The Florida Manatee (T. manatus latirostris) is a subspecies that is found in Florida.  The historic range of the Florida Manatee included all of the Gulf coast and the east coast as far as the Chesapeake Bay.  However, the increase in humans triggered a decrease in manatees.  In the 1970’s it was rare to find the animal outside of the Florida peninsula.

 

Florida first began protecting the animal in 1893 and today it is protected by the state with the Manatee Sanctuary Act, the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the federal Endangered Species Act. In the 1970’s the population of Florida Manatees was estimated to be about 1000 animals, today there are an estimated 6000.  Due to the increase throughout its range, the animal has now been moved from ENDANGERED to THREATENED.  In 2016, 521 manatee deaths were logged with FWC.  The average for a month was 43.  The majority of these were logged as unknown or perinatal (associated with the weeks before and after birth) and the highest for a month was in February.  Boat strikes were logged as the largest problem for the months of January and July.

 

All that said, we would certainly like to protect any manatee that visit’s our area. So what can we do?

  • If boating, use the marked channels. There is evidence that manatees try to avoid boat traffic by staying out of the boating areas.
  • If you must leave the channel to reach your dock or the beach do so at idol speed. Wear polarized glasses and have a look out. Manatees do not break the surface as dolphins do, rather they generate “swirling eddies” as they move beneath the surface. So slow your movement and have a watchful eye and we can help reduce problems.
  • If snorkeling, diving, or swimming near a manatee do not approach the animal; this can be stressful for them and could be reported as harassment by FWC; which could come with a fine. Allow the animal to move as it wishes and enjoy the experience.
  • The same goes for a kayak or paddle encounter. Do not chase the manatee or separate mother from calf.
  • Another issue has been feeding manatees or providing them freshwater from a hose. This practice has gone on a long time but researchers now know that this decreases the fear of humans by manatees and they return. This can cause boat strikes to increase. It is also considered harassment.

Marsha was interested in letting researchers know about this unusual encounter. However, researchers, and FWC, do not necessarily consider this as unusual as we think.  Manatees have become a main stay at Wakulla Springs State Park during the colder months and are common enough in the Mobile Bay area that a manatee watch program has been developed.  If the animal is distressed, injured, or you find a dead one you can report this to FWC at (888) 404-3922.  If the animal is fine, healthy, and swimming just follow the basic rules listed above and enjoy a really cool experience with this really cool Floridian.

More information on “do’s” and “don’ts” can be found at

http://myfwc.com/education/wildlife/manatee/viewing-guidelines/.

http://myfwc.com/media/415226/manatee_fltreasure_bklt.pdf

With Hurricane Season Approaching, Are You Prepared for an Evacuation?

Hurricane season begins this year on June 1st and ends November 30th. As Floridians, we face the possibility of hurricanes each year. This simply goes with the territory. During these months, it’s important to plan for the threat of a hurricane, and at the same time hope, it never happens.

First and foremost, you may be asked to leave your home in emergency conditions. Emergency management officials would not ask you to do so without a valid reason. Please do not second guess this request. Leave your home immediately. Requests of this magnitude will normally come through radio broadcasts and area TV stations.

Figure 1. UF/IFAS Disaster Handbook.

Credit. UF/IFAS Communications.

The most important thing to keep in mind is to have your own, up to date plan for a possible evacuation. The University of Florida has developed, “The Disaster Handbook” to help citizens plan for safety. The handbook includes a chapter dedicated to hurricane planning. The chapter can be downloaded in pdf at http://disaster.ifas.ufl.edu/chap7fr.htm.

Utilizing the 15 principles below will assist you in your evacuation planning efforts:

  1. Know the route & directions: keep a paper state map in your vehicle. Be prepared to use the routes designated by the emergency management officials.
  2. Local authorities will guide the public: Stay in communication with local your local emergency management officials. By following their instructions, you are far safer.
  3. Keep a full gas tank in your vehicle: During a hurricane threat, gas can become sparse. Be sure you fill your tank in advance of the storm.
  4. One vehicle per household: If evacuation is necessary, take one vehicle. Families that carpool will reduce congestion on evacuation routes.
  5. Powerlines: Do not go near powerlines, especially if broken or down.
  6. Clothing: Wear clothing that protects as much area as possible, but suitable for walking in the elements.
  7. Disaster Kit: Create a kit complete with a battery powered NOAA weather radio, extra batteries, food, water, clothing and first aid kit. The kit should have enough supplies for at least three days.
  8. Phone: Bring your cell phone & charger.
  9. Prepare your home before leaving: Lock all windows & doors. Turn off water. You may want to turn off your electricity. If you have a home freezer, you may wish not too. Leave your natural gas on, unless instructed to turn it off. You may need gas for heating or cooking and only a professional can turn it on once it has been turned off.
  10. Family Communications: Contact family and friends before leaving town, if possible. Have an out of town contact as well, to check in with regarding the storm and safety options.
  11. Emergency shelters: Know where the emergency shelters are located in your vicinity.
  12. Shelter in place: This measure is in place for the event that emergency management officials request that you remain in your home or office. Close and lock all window and exterior doors. Turn off all fans and the HVAC system. Close the fireplace damper. Open your disaster kit and make sure the NOAA weather radio is on. Go to an interior room without windows that is ground level. Keep listening to your radio or TV for updates.
  13. Predetermined meeting place: Have a spot designated for a family meeting before the imminent evacuation. This will help minimize anxiety and confusion and will save time.
  14. Children at school: Have a plan for picking up children from school and how they will be taken care of and by whom.
  15. Animals and pets: Have a plan for caring for animals and shelter options in the event of an evacuation. For livestock, contact your local county extension office.

Following these steps will help you stay safe and give you a piece of mind, during hurricane season. Contact your local county extension office for more information.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Hurricane Preparation: Evacuating Your Home”, by Elizabeth Bolton & Muthusami Kumaran: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY74700.pdf

UF/IFAS Extension is An Equal Opportunity Institution.