While Guests Were Away, Manatees Did Play

provided to Santiva Chronicle

While life slowed for many Americans due to the COVID-19 pandemic, manatees have been busy. Tarpon Bay Explorers Onsite Manager and Naturalist Adam Sauderland says there is not a specific mating season for the manatee, but spring and summer bring a spike.

“We’ve had a considerably warm late winter and spring,” said Sauderland. “Manatees thrive in warm water and February and March had water temperatures reaching into the low 80s.”

The manatee is Florida’s state marine mammal and labeled as threatened in the state. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services estimate there are as many as 6,500 manatees in the South Eastern United States, which has increased since their population was estimated at 1,200 when aerial surveys began in 1991.

“Manatees have been working hard to maintain their population,” said Sauderland. “Throughout our safer at home order, I would see manatees mating from dawn to dusk.”

The bay water is a paradise for the beloved sea cow with a significant portion of it covered with sea grasses, the manatee’s preferred food item, and is an area of minimum wake zone from boats. Sauderland says the silver lining of this pandemic is there was less boat traffic, which gave the manatees more time “to do their thing” without much disturbance.

Although manatees can be found in the back-bay waters like Pine Island Sound, they eventually make their way to the beaches. Sauderland said he saw mating herds off the island’s beaches, too. That means boaters should always be aware of slow speed and manatee zones.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Committee determined there were 124 manatee deaths in 2018 due to watercraft, according to a recently released preliminary mortality report. Sauderland says regardless of how you enjoy the water around the island, respecting wildlife is important.

“Education is one of the best tools to let people know what’s going on, what to do and, most importantly, what not to do,” he said. “Tarpon Bay Explorers prides itself in the fact our tours view all wildlife in an ethical fashion.”

The company will commonly see manatee on the Nature and Sealife Cruise and occasionally on kayak tours. The viewing guidelines for manatees, specifically, can be found on the FWC website. Sauderland says he thinks everyone can agree that we want to ensure manatees can be seen in the wild for centuries to come.

Tarpon Bay Explorers is the concession to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The company provides educational and recreation opportunities for the refuge giving back 12 percent to National Wildlife Refuges across the country.

Currently, Tarpon Bay Explorers is only providing rentals for kayaks, canoes, SUPs, bikes and pontoons from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The boat ramp is also open during that same time frame. For any additional information or questions, call the shop at 239-472-8900.

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