Florida wildlife officials are concerned by the record number of manatee deaths by boat strikes. A report from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) shows in the first half of 2019, 89 manatees had been killed by watercraft, compared to 65 during the same time period last year. The five-year average for the same time period is 55.
The Florida manatee, designated the state marine mammal in 1975, is among the state’s most popular native animals. A listed species under the federal Endangered Species Act and state Imperiled Species List, the manatee’s health and survival is threatened by human-related impacts such as habitat loss and boat strikes, as well as natural events such as cold snaps and red tide.
In response, to the deaths the FWC has increased patrols in strategic areas of the state to enhance manatee conservation and public safety.
Lee, Brevard and Volusia counties have reported higher numbers of oat strikes on manatees so far this year.
In a press release, Col. Curtis Brown, director of the FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement said: “We strategically assign officers to patrol certain areas based on boating activity and manatee data. We also work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local partners to make sure that boaters know to look out for manatees. We want people and manatees to be safe.”
The public can do their part. Because manatees are difficult to detect when underwater, operators of boats, including personal watercraft, need to take basic steps to avoid causing injury to manatees:
Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
Pay attention to your surroundings.
Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
Follow posted manatee zones while boating.
Try to stay in deep water channels whenenver possible
Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas.
To report an injured manatee, call the Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922.