TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - The manatee is a familiar sight in Florida’s waterways, and a day to appreciate them falls on the last Wednesday of March – although, every day we can appreciate the slow and steady sea cows.
The species is considered to be a keystone species for the Sunshine State, meaning they can alert researchers to environmental and habitat changes that could otherwise go unnoticed, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
When the temperatures drop, Floridians and tourists flock to areas like the TECO Manatee Viewing Center or Three Sisters Springs to see groups of manatees cuddling in warmer waters. The waterplant-eating gentle giants can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh more than a ton.
Manatees were designated as the state marine mammal in 1975, and continue to be protected under Florida and federal laws. In early 2017, they were reclassified from endangered to a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Their population has grown to over 6,600, but conservation efforts remain a priority today.
Among all the known causes for manatee deaths, humans are responsible for about half of them, according to the Florida Department of State. The most common fatalities occur after manatees are struck by boats, barges or propeller blades.
The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 and other regulations since then have lowered the boat speed limits during the winter months, when over 1,500 manatees head to warmer bays and rivers to avoid pneumonia and death.
If anyone sees a distressed or dead manatee, FWC officials asks for those reports to be made online or call 888-404-3922. To learn more about Florida manatees and how you can help conservation efforts, head to FWC’s website.