The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) urges boaters in Southwest Florida to keep an extra-sharp lookout for manatees this Labor Day weekend. It will take special care to stem the growing number of vessel strikes that cause serious injury to the slow-moving creatures, particularly in Lee, Charlotte and Collier counties.
As of Wednesday, Sept. 2, 12 manatees have died from watercraft collisions in Lee County waters during 2009.
According to Kipp Frohlich, the FWC's Imperiled Species leader, boaters can do their part to protect manatees by following four important guidelines: Abide by posted boat speed zones, stay in marked channels, wear polarized sunglasses to improve vision, and give manatees plenty of space so they can avoid boats in crowded waters this holiday weekend.
Large numbers of manatees use nearly all of Southwest Florida coastal waters adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. The FWC asks boaters to slow to the appropriate speed for the area, especially if they detect the presence of manatees.
"Scan the water for swirls that look like huge footprints. A repetitive line of half-moon swirls, a mud trail or a snout or a tail that breaks the surface can indicate the presence of manatees," Frohlich said. "If you detect a manatee, give it plenty of room and stay alert; it may be traveling with a calf or other manatees that are close by."
Boaters who see an injured, dead or orphaned manatee, or someone harassing one, should call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.
"If you find an injured manatee, stay near the animal if possible and report its location and direction of travel," Frohlich said. "Don't interfere with its movement or try to capture it. The more information you can provide, the more likely it is to be rescued, rehabilitated and returned to the wild."
For more information about manatees, visit MyFWC.com/Manatee.