All’s Quiet on the Western Front… or is it?

All’s Quiet on the Western Front… or is it?

Those of us who enjoy wildlife viewing do not see much this time of year.   The days are shorter and colder.  Most creatures have left or are hiding from the winter air.  We grew up learning about hibernation and winter life for animals.  But why do they do this? And are all of them doing so?

The spectacular dunes of south Walton County.

It is all about temperature.  Our bodies have an internal temperature that must remain within a specific range for us to survive.  Some creatures can survive at much higher temperatures than others, such as the desert pupfish.  This fish lives in pools out west where water temperatures average 93°F.  Others can live in very low temps, such as the Antarctic icefish – who live in water in the 28°F range.  But most live with body temperatures in the 85-95°F, and most prefer to keep their body temperatures near the upper limit of their tolerance range.


How do they do this when it is cold outside?


Well, the can absorb heat externally – from the sun, the ground, being in contact with warm solid objects, and even from the air.  For some creatures, this is their primary method of absorbing heat.  We call them “ectotherms” – or “cold blooded”.  These “cold bloods” have low metabolism, so they do not generate enough internal heat to help.  Many also have an outer covering (scales) that is not a good insulator, so they cannot hold on to the heat they do produce.  Most “cold bloods” are no where to be found this time of year.  It is far too cold outside.  Their food (the source for internal metabolic heat) is nowhere to be found either.  Some of the “cold bloods” will find a burrow, or some location out of the elements and go into torpor (sleep).  Torpor will allow them to slow their metabolism, which is going to happen anyway, to where their heart and respiration rates drop dramatically.  This reduces the chance of losing more heat during breathing (which happens) and the low metabolism allows them to survive on stored energy until spring.

An alligator at Wakulla Springs taking advantage of the sun to bask and maintain body temperature. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson

There are different levels of torpor.  Some “cold bloods” are in DEEP torpor (true hibernation) and are basically unresponsive to external stimuli.  Others are not so “deep” and may move around during winter.  Snakes may emerge on warm sunny days in January to bask near the burrow entrance and regain some heat.  Other “cold bloods” may just pack up and move – migrate – where it is warmer.  This happens more with fish than reptiles and amphibians.


Then there are the endotherms, or “warm bloods”.  These animals can maintain a relatively high body temperature this time of year and remain active – even seek out and hunt hibernating creatures.  How do they do this?


First, they have a higher metabolism rate than “cold bloods”, and thus generate more internal heat.  There is a cost for this though – 80-90% of the food they consume goes to maintaining their body temperature (and I say they… that would be WE…).  This means “warm bloods” must eat more often and this can be problematic in winter when your favorite prey is in hibernation or has migrated.


In addition to producing more heat, their body covering (fur or feathers) helps insulate them so they do not lose the heat they have produced.  “Fluffing” the fur or feathers helps some as well.  There is a biological principal known as Bergmann’s Rule that states, “larger animals can maintain their body temperature better than smaller ones”.  This has to do with surface area : volume ratios, and an article for another day, but let’s just say bigger animals can maintain a warmer body and remain more active.  That said, smaller mammals (beach mice) may still need to hibernate or enter some form of torpor to survive this time of year.


One mammal that some folks on the beach still encounter this time of year is the coyote.  One of the larger mammals in the beach ecosystem, and a top predator, coyotes are still active in winter.  Actually, it is breeding time for them.  The females usually find a denning spot as it becomes cold and gestation will last about 60 days; so, the pups will be here soon.  The average number of pups / female is six; a pretty big family to feed honestly.  At that point, in a few weeks, she will be seeking food to produce milk to nourish her pups – who will be sexually mature and ready to reproduce by Thanksgiving.

A coyote moving on Pensacola Beach near dawn.
Photo provided by Shelley Johnson.

Many who have encountered, and I spoke with one beach resident who recently saw one, are still nervous around them and not sure what to do.  Despite the group calls (howls) they are famous for, they are not as social as wolves and can be seen alone.  They have a natural fear of humans and try to avoid us.  They are fantastic consumers of rodents (their favorite prey) and this sometimes brings them close to homes and businesses.  They are more crepuscular (dawn and dusk) and nocturnal, so encounters are not common, but they happen.  Usually when a coyote spots us, they freeze and then slide off into the night.  This is good, and normal.  Animals that stand their ground or approach humans can be a problem.  They usually only do this when (a) they are sick and not acting normal, or (b) they have been fed by humans.  This is not always intentional.  Sometimes folks place their cat food outside for their cats and turn in for the night.  If the coyotes find this, they will be back.  In other cases, it has been intentional, and we strongly recommend you do not do this.  In one study they found in Chicago, where coyotes do live but encounters are rare, their stomach content only had about 2% human food.  Compare this with coyotes in southern California, where human food content is around 25% and negative human encounters are more common.


There is also concern about coyotes taking small pets.  This happens.  All predators are seeking prey that is easy to kill – where they can feed and not expend a lot of energy to make the kill.  Small pets are easy to kill, larger than rodents, and carry more energy for them.  It is recommended that you bring your small pets indoors during the evening.


In Escambia County, the County Extension office provides a monthly program called SCIENCE HOUR each month.  Next month (February 7) the topic will be coyotes and pet safety.  The presentation will be given by Elizabeth Heikkinen from FWC.  We encourage all who have concerns about coyotes to come hear the talk and ask questions.  Science Hour is held at the Escambia County Central Office Complex in Pensacola.  3346 West Park Place.  We begin at 6:00 PM and it is free.


Though we see less wildlife this time of year, it is great time to walk the beaches.  Get out and enjoy.

Roadkilled Reptiles: What a Shame

Roadkilled Reptiles: What a Shame

Roadkilled scarlet kingsnake in hand

This beautiful scarlet kingsnake was run over near the author’s home

Snakes are some of the coolest animals on the planet but I’ll admit to something right up front; when a snake surprises me, I still jump, often. Even if I seem composed on the outside, something inside me almost always jumps. It does not matter if it is a venomous species or not. In spite of my basic understanding of and great appreciation for reptiles, snakes connect with a primal instinct that shouts “lookout” at some subconscious level. This human character trait is most-often the undoing of many an innocent serpent, happily going about its business when, WHAM, lights out. When a snake dares touch the human subconscious, our first emotion is often shock or fear; then perhaps anger; and in the end, payback for the offense. Many a good snake has met a very bad end when it has surprised a person.

Shock and fear are powerful emotions and I can almost (not totally) understand the outcome described above when someone is honestly shocked by a snake’s unexpected appearance. Nevertheless, even my wife, during a shocking encounter with a 5-foot oak snake while collecting eggs in the chicken house, was able gather her wits and shoo the critter out of the coop with a stick, rather than kill it. She did have me go the next evening to get the eggs though.

The one thing I have no empathy for however is when folks go out of their way to kill a snake that is trying to cross one of our roadways. About 90% of the dead snakes I see on the road are so close to the edge of the pavement that they were easily avoidable. C’mon people, that should be a “snake-safe” zone. These animals are likely never to encounter a human as they go about their business, performing important ecological functions in their natural habitat. Their great misfortune was that they had to cross an asphalt corridor used by humans. How about providing the same courtesy that most folks do when they see a turtle on the highway.

I see my share of cottonmouths smashed on the road (and that’s a shame too in my book) but other flattened species I’ve encountered include mud snakes, rat snakes, garter snakes, ribbon snakes, water snakes, racers, scarlet kingsnakes, green snakes, and many more; all harmless creatures. Recently, I stopped to look at a nice 4-foot coachwhip; a beautiful specimen, except for the fact that it was dead.

I get a thrill in seeing a living snake and having the chance to marvel at its form, function and beauty. If you ever have the chance to look closely at a pygmy rattlesnake in the wild (hopefully not in your turkey blind) you will be blown-away by its magnificent beauty. Black, velvety blotches on a gray background, with a rusty stripe running down the middle of its back. Same thing for a large diamondback rattlesnake (from a respectable distance). These have been some of my favorite natural encounters in the woods of North Florida, where we are truly blessed with a diversity of amazing animals and yes, super-amazing snakes. We should always use common sense of course when roaming the woods and enjoying our wild encounters, i.e. don’t ever catch venomous snakes (not worth the thrill), keep your hands out of hidden places, and watch where you put your feet. Oh, and work on cultivating a “live and let live” attitude when it comes to our scaly friends on the highway. They will oblige likewise.

What’s Up With the Rattlesnakes?

What’s Up With the Rattlesnakes?

In the past week, three eastern diamondback rattlesnakes were encountered near the Ft. Pickens area on Pensacola Beach. The first was at a condominium unit near the park gate where construction work was occurring, the second was found swimming in the surf of the Gulf of Mexico within the national seashore, and the third was in the national seashore’s campground.  This is an animal we rarely encounter on our barrier islands – but that is the keyword… encounter… they are there, but tend to avoid us.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake crawling near Ft. Pickens Campground.
Photo: Shelley Johnson


Report on rattlesnake in Gulf surf –


The eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus) is the largest venomous snake in the United States.  An average snake will reach six feet and five pounds, but they can reach eight feet and up to 15 pounds.  Because of their large bodies, they tend to move slow and do not often try to escape when approached by humans.  Rather, they lie still and quite hoping to be missed.  If they do feel you have come to close, they will give their signature rattle as a warning – though this does not always happen.  If they are considering the idea of striking – they will raise their head in the classic “S” formation.  Know that their strike range is 2/3 their body length – larger than many other native snakes – so a four foot snake could have a three foot strike range.  Give these snakes plenty of clearance.


Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes prefer dry sandy habitats, though they are also found in pine flatwoods (such as Naval Live Oaks north of highway 98 in Gulf Breeze). They are quite common in the upland sandhills of longleaf pine forests.  They spend the day in tree stump holes and gopher burrows and hunt small mammals and birds in the evenings.  They are particular fond of rabbits.  The dunes of our barrier islands are very similar to the sandhills of the pine forest further north.  They are actually good swimmers and saltwater is not a barrier – distance is.  They have been seen numerous times swimming from Gulf to Pensacola Beach or the opposite.  Again, they tend to avoid encounters with humans and are not often found on lawns etc.


Diamondbacks give birth to live young around August. The females will find a dark-cool location to den and give birth several young.  Anywhere from four to 32 offspring have been reported.  The female remains with the young for about 10 days until they have their first molt (skin shedding) and then she leaves them to their fate.

Diamondback rattlesnake near condominium construction site Pensacola Beach.
Photo: Sawyer Asmar

So what’s up with three encounters in a relatively small location within one week?


My first inclination is two possibilities – maybe a combination of the two.

  1. We have had a lot of rain this year – and then T.S. Gordon came through. Snakes like to be on high dry ground as much as anyone else and they tend to move closer to human habitats because they are built on higher ground.
  2. Breeding season for eastern diamondbacks is late summer early fall. This time of year, the males are on the move seeking interested females – so they are encountered more.

As far as finding one in the surf of the Gulf of Mexico. I am not sure.  I have never seen this and the newspaper account suggested it was not doing well when found.  Again, I have seen plenty swimming the Intracoastal but this is a first for the Gulf.  I would say it had wondered the wrong way.


They are actually fascinating animals and are not a threat unless you approach too close. Give them room and feel lucky if you get to see one.





Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Natural History. Center for Biological Diversity.


Krysko, Kenneth L., and F. Wayne King. 2014. Online Guide to the Snakes of Florida. Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA. [Online: September 2014] Available at:

Nature Notes – The Blue Crab

Nature Notes – The Blue Crab

Most kids who grew up on the Gulf Coast grew up catching blue crabs. These animals are common along our shorelines, relatively easy to catch, and adventurous because they may bite you.  I caught my first one in 1965 and we proudly displayed the boiled shell over the kitchen bar for many years.  This is also a popular seafood target with an estimated commercial landing value of $56,950 in the Pensacola Bay area in 2017.

Blue crabs are one of the few crabs with swimming appendages.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

But who is this crab that we enjoy so much? What do we know about it?


As you probably already know, it is one of an estimated 30,000 species of arthropods we call crustaceans.  Crustaceans differ from insects and arachnids in that they have five pairs of legs and two sets of antenna.  Insects typically have a head, thorax, and abdomen – however, in the crustaceans the head and thorax are fused into what is called a cephlathorax and covered with a section of the shell called the carapace.  Like all arthropods, their body are completely covered in a chitinous shell that serves as their exoskeleton.  This exoskeleton must be periodically shed (molting) so they can continue to grow.  Crustaceans tend to molt about 10-11 times each year and typically in the summer months.  To molt, crustaceans will remove some of the salts and minerals from the shell into their tissue, this weakens the shell enough to separate it.  The crack is usually between the cephlathorax and abdomen.  When they emerge, they are completely soft and about 30% larger than before – it is amazing to see this large crab emerge from the small shell it once lived in.  Because of the softness of the body after molting, this is usually done under the cover of darkness for protection.  The salts and minerals it removed during pre-molting are now used to harden the new shell – which can take a couple of days.  It is at this stage we call them “soft shells”.


The crustaceans include many different kinds of arthropods – most notably are the crabs, shrimps, and lobsters. There are over 4500 species of crabs and they differ from shrimps and lobsters in the fact their abdomen flexes beneath their body – you do not see the “tail” you see in a lobster or shrimp – but its there.  Crabs can also move very well laterally, which their cousins are not so good.  Blue crabs differ from other crabs in that their last pair of legs are modified as paddles and the animal can swim.  They can swim forwards, backwards, and laterally – and they are often seen swimming at the surface.  There are other crabs who have these swimming paddles and they are all called protunid crabs.


Blue crabs perceive their world through their eyes, antenna, and sensory cells on their body. They are very good at burying in the sand – eyes and antenna exposed – and sensory cells all working – seeking prey and avoiding predators.  Their eyes differ from ours in that they have numerous lenses, compared to our single one, and are called compound eyes.  Each lens does not provide them with an image of you or me however.  Rather each lenses provides them with a single pixel of light.  It is much like the image you see on television when they are trying to block out a brand name, or someone’s face.  The more pixels (lenses) you have, the clearer the image.  Those this type of eye does not give as clear an image as ours; it is very good at detecting motion and has served the arthropods very well over the years.


For blue crabs, food can be just about anything. They are active hunters – usually using the ambush method of capture (buried in the sand), but are also known scavengers – eating any bits of food they can find.  Those enjoy crabbing know this – you can put just about anything as bait in a crab trap and it works.  They have numerous predators including fish, birds, mammals, and sea turtles.

Male and female blue crabs.

Blue crabs can be found in a variety of salinities (euryhaline). Males are typically found in the lower salinities of the upper bay.  Females join them during mating season – which is in late spring and summer.  Males cradle the females beneath his legs for several days waiting for the right location and moment to breed.  Fishermen refer to them as “doublers” during this time.  The females will molt and the male will then deposit his sperm into a sac called a spermatophore – which he then deposits to the female.  She will then migrate to the more saline lower portions of the lower bay, while he remains and seeks another female.  This may be the only spermatophore she receives her entire life – which can be up to five years, though most do not live beyond three years.  She will use sperm from this spermatophore over that time to fertilize eggs.


The eggs develop in a sponge mass that develops beneath her abdomen. This egg mass is orange when in early development and becomes a darker brown with age as the larvae consume the yolk.  There can be between 750,000 and 2,000,000 developing eggs within this mass.  The females are called gravid at this stage and it is illegal to harvest gravid crabs in Florida.


The eggs hatch in about two weeks and a small microscopic mosquito looking larvae emerges – at this stage, they are called zoea.  The zoea drift into the Gulf of Mexico where they feed and molt.  Eventually they return to the estuary and become a microscopic crab with a tail – this stage is called a megalops.  The megalops will feed and molt.  The tail will eventually flex beneath and the crab becomes sexually mature.  The entire process from hatching to sexual maturity is about 12-18 months.


These are fascinating animals. They are very common and a large part of the coastal culture of the Florida panhandle.  Kids will have great fun catching them with a hand net, letting them swim in their beach buckets, but be sure to let them go before you head home and watch those claws – they do know how to use them.  It is a great animal.

The famous blue crab.
Photo: FWC

Recreational Blue Crab Harvest Regulations in Florida

No size limit

10 gallons whole / harvester / day

Harvesting gravid females is prohibited

Five crab traps / person – cannot be placed in navigation channels

Trap closed season in Florida panhandle – Jan 5-14 in odd years.





Barnes, R.D. 1980. Invertebrate Zoology. Saunders College Press. Philadelphia PA. pp. 1089.


Blue Crab. Callinectes sapidus. Chesapeake Bay Program. 2018.


Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Commercial Landings in Florida. 2017-2018.


Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Recreational Blue Crabbing.

Our “Seahawk”; the Osprey

Our “Seahawk”; the Osprey

As a kid growing up here along the Gulf Coast, I had never heard of an osprey. Now, there is at least one mating pair on almost every body of water in the Pensacola Bay area.  Where did this once unknown bird come from? How has it successfully colonized our coastal waterways?

Osprey nesting sites are commonly near water, and their food source.

The osprey, like many other fish eating birds, was a victim of the DDT story. This miracle pesticide was developed to battle insects attacking food crops but was found to be useful against mosquitos and many other unwanted pests.  It was sprayed everywhere using planes, trucks, and tractors.  With an extremely long half-life, wherever it landed it was going to be around for a while – it can still be found in the sediments of the Pensacola Bay System.  It was one of those compounds that was difficult to excrete through an organisms excretory system – thus it accumulated within their tissues, and as organisms fed on other organisms, it was passed up the food chain – bioaccumulation.  Birds of prey who fed on fish would accumulate DDT as well.  It caused the shells of their eggs to become thinner – so nesting was not successful – and many of the aquatic birds of prey (pelicans and eagles alike) declined in number.  DDT was banned in 1970s and many of these fish eating birds have made a remarkable recovery – a true success story.


So who is this fish eating bird of prey that can be found on dead trees and light posts all over the bay area?


Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are members of the family Accipitridae – the hawks and eagles.

They are predators with hooked bills and sharp talons to grab and dispose of prey. Ospreys can be identified by the hawk like silhouette hovering over a local waterway searching for fish – their primary food.  They are usually in pairs and, at times, the young are hovering nearby.  Their call is a high pitch chirping sound and if seen on a tree, or on their nest, they are brown on top and white beneath.  These birds are common along both fresh and saltwater bodies of water.


Ospreys prefer waterways where fish are plentiful. For more successful hunting, they like waters that are relatively shallow and nesting locations that protect the young from mammalian predators.  Many local osprey prefer large dead trees for their nests, and will often use manmade structures – such as power poles, navigation markers, and special platforms on poles placed there for the purpose of osprey nesting.


Osprey feed almost exclusively on fish. They are unique in the hawk world in that their talons can adjust so that the captured fish can be turned parallel to the osprey’s body – making it more aerodynamic when returning to the nest.  Hunting osprey hover over the water searching and then dive, talons first into the water.  They can only reach depths of about three feet so they typically hunt for surface schooling fish, or in shallow waters.  Most of their captures are between 8-10 inches and include such fish as speckled trout, mullet, and catfish.



These birds are monogamous (mating pairs breed for life). During the breeding season, the male will collect sticks for the construction of their large nests.  Bringing them back to the female, she will begin to arrange and construct the nest.  The male provides seagrass and flotsam for the inner lining.  There is a pre-courtship dance where the returning male flies over the nest with a fish.  The pair produce between 3-4 eggs.  Both parents will incubate the eggs but the female does the lions share.  She will incubate while the male hunts.  Returning with a fish for her, she will fly to a nearby branch to feed while he incubates the eggs – though they have seen the males incubate even without feeding the female.  Evening incubation is always the female.


After hatching, the male will bring food to both the female and young. She does not leave the young at all for about 14 days.  Afterwards, they will be left alone for periods of time, and are usually fledged by 50 days.  Data shows that young fledglings rarely disperse more than 30 miles from the nest they hatched from – suggesting slow dispersal of this species.  The mating pair will return to the same location for nesting every year for up to 30 years.


There are few predators of osprey due to their nesting habits. In some locations, where they nest on the ground, coyotes have been a problem.  Locally, bald eagles are known to try to grab hatchlings and, occasionally, adults.  There have been reports of crocodiles taking adults from the water in South Africa; this may be the case in South America as well, but no reports of American Alligators doing the same.


This is now a common bird along our shores and is a true conservation success story.





National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds; Eastern Region. Ed. J. Bull, J. Farrand Jr. pp. 795.


Osprey. Neotropical Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Columbus’s Mermaid; the Florida Manatee

Columbus’s Mermaid; the Florida Manatee

The manatee may be one of the more iconic animals in the state of Florida. In Wyoming, we think of bison and bears.  In Florida, we think of alligators and manatees.  However, encountering this marine mammal in the Florida panhandle is a relatively rare occurrence… until recently.

Manatee swimming in Big Lagoon near Pensacola.
Photo: Marsha Stanton

For several years now, visitors to Wakulla Springs – in the eastern panhandle – have had the pleasure of viewing manatees on a regular basis. It is believed about 40 individuals frequent the river.  Last year there were eight individuals that frequent the Perdido Key area, and a couple more were seen more than once near Gulf Breeze.  This is not normal for us, but already this year one manatee has been spotted in the Big Lagoon area – so we may be seeing more as the summer goes on.


So what exactly is a manatee?


It is listed as a marine mammal, but frequents both fresh and saltwater habitats. Being mammals, they are warm blooded (endothermic).  Maintaining your body temperature internally allows you to live in a variety of cold temperature habitats but water can really draw the heat quickly from anyone’s body.  Marine mammals counter this problem by having a thick layer of fat within the skin – insulation called blubber.  However, the manatees blubber layer is not very thick.  So they are restricted to the tropical parts of the world and, in Florida, spend the winter near warm water springs.  Many have learned the trick of hanging out near warm water discharges near power plants.  In the warmer months, they venture out to find lush seagrass meadows in which to graze.


They are herbivores. Possessing flat-ridged molars for grinding plant material, they are more closely related to deer and cattle than the seal and walrus they look like.  They lack canines and incisors, which deer and cattle use to cut the grass blades, but have large extending lips that grab and tear grasses with – very similar to the trunk of an elephant, which is their closest relative.  Like many mammalian herbivores, they grow to a large size. Manatees can reach 15 feet in length and over 1000 pounds.  They have two forearms that are paddle shaped and used for steering.  The tail is a large circular disk called a fluke, which propels them through the water and is often seen breaking the surface.  They are generally slow moving animals but can startle you when they decide to kick into “fourth gear” and burst across the river.


They are generally solitary animals, gathering in the wintertime around the warm springs. Males usually leave the females after breeding and do not form family units, or herds.  Females are pregnant for 13 months and typically give birth to one calf, which stays with mom for two years.  Like all mammals, the young feed on milk from mammary glands, but these glands are close to the armpits on the manatee.  This makes it much easier for the calf to feed while both are swimming.  This is not the case with dolphins and whales, where the mother must roll sideways to feed her young.

Manatees hanging out in Wakulla Springs.
Photo provided by Scott Jackson

There are three species of manatees in the world today. The Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis), the West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis) and the West Indie Manatee (Trichechus manatus).  The Florida Manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian (Trichechus manatus latirostris).  In the 1970’s it was estimated there were about 1000 West Indian manatees left in the word.  Today, with the help of numerous nonprofits and state agencies, there is an estimated 6600 in Florida.  Due to this increase, the manatee has moved from the federal endangered species list to threatened species.  That said, human caused mortality still occurs and boaters should be aware of their presence.  Since 2012, an average of 500 manatees die in Florida waters.  Most of these are prenatal or undetermined, but about 20% are from boat strikes.  Manatees tend stay out of the deeper channels, so boats leaving the ICW for a favorite beach or their dock should keep an eye out.  Most of the time they are just below the surface and only their nostrils break for a breath of air.  They usually breathe every 3-5 minutes when swimming but can remain below for up to 20 minutes when they are resting.  Approaching a manatee is still illegal.  Though their status has changed from endangered to threatened, they are still protected by state and federal law.


FWC suggest the following practices for boaters, and PWC, near manatees

  • Abide by any speed limit signs – no wake zones
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to aid in seeing through the water
  • Stay in deeper water and channels as much as possible
  • Stay out of seagrass beds – there is are numerous reasons why this is important, not just manatees
  • If a manatee is seen, keep your boat/PWC at least 50 feet from the animal.
  • Please do not discard your hooks and monofilament into the water – again, numerous reasons why this is a bad practice.


So Why are There More Encounters in the Florida Panhandle?


Good question…

Their original range included the entire northern Gulf coast. When their numbers declined in the 1960’s and 70’s there were fewer animals to venture this far north.  Manatee sightings at that time did occur, but were very rare.  Today, with increasing numbers, encounters are becoming more common.  There is actually a Manatee Watch Program for the Mobile Bay area ( and they have been seen as far west as Louisiana.


They are truly neat animals and to see one in our area is a real treat. Remember to view and photo, but do not approach.  I hope that many of you will get to meet what maybe new summer neighbors.

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




2017 Manatee Mortality Data. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Florida Manatee Facts and Information. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Manatee Information for Boaters and PWC. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Manatee Sighting Network.


West Indian Manatee. Wikipedia.