Manatees are in danger of going the way of the dodo — to extinction.
Like so many wild animals, the main threat to their survival are not their natural enemies (in the case of manatees, their main predators are sharks, crocodiles, killer whales and alligators). Instead, if manatees disappear from the face of the planet, it will be the doing of humans. The World Conservation Union has described manatees as vulnerable to extinction and it’s mainly because people have encroached on their natural habitat. As human development grows in natural areas, the living quarters for manatees shrink.
What’s more, since manatees tend to hang out in shallow waters in the winter months — the better to enjoy the Gulf Coast inland waterways’ 72 degree water temperature — they often get hit by power boat propellers.
As you swim with a manatee on one of our tours, chances are you’ll notice several scars and gashes on their skin. These manatees are the lucky ones — they survived an encounter of the propeller kind. Many manatees are not as fortunate. Up to 50 large gashes have been seen on manatees. Collisions with fast-moving motor or speed boats are common and if the impact doesn’t kill the manatee, infection from the propeller’s wounds often will. Unseen internal injuries sustained during the collision also can kill the animal.
It’s believed only about 3,000+ manatees exist in the wild in and around Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The aireil survey this winter revealed over 3500 manatees on the coasts of Florida. And the population is increasing in our area as well as a couple more areas. But a 1997 research paper* stated that unless the manatees receive aggressive protection, the rate manatees naturally reproduce (about one calf per female, with a gestation period of about 13 months) will not be enough to prevent their extinction within 100 years. Which would be an incredible sad fate for a creature whose ancestors scientists believe were swimming in Florida’s waters about 45 million years ago!
Recorded deaths that can be traced to humans now make up 20-40 percent of all manatee deaths.
Manatees here now are protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, as well as by the federal Marine Mammal Protection and the Endangered Species acts.
We hope that by joining one of our manatee swimming tours you’ll become, like us, raving manatee fans, and that you will work to save them from extinction.
For more information on what you can do to help, check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s manatee program page.
*(Marmontel, Humphrey, O’Shea 1997, Population Variability Analysis of the Florida Manatee, 1976-1992, Conserv. biol., 11: 467-481)