I have been blessed in my life to have had some pretty extraordinary animal encounters. One of my favorites was being with the manatees in Crystal River, Florida two years ago.

Photo: Patrick M. Rose

Manatees are amazing creatures, gentle, curious, and misunderstood. I went kayaking with a local biologist/specialist who called them (one of my favorite terms) “Charismatic Megafauna”–I want a t-shirt that says that. They are large animals with whom people fall in love that can inspire conservation efforts for all species. I hope you are inspired.

Manatees are, for such huge creatures, quite fragile. They cannot withstand even slight changes in body temperature and have to huddle around warm water springs (and you often see them near run-off waterways at power plants where the waste water is warm). A detriment to their curious nature and slow movement is that they are too often struck by boats and boat propellers–of the manatees I saw in nature as well as in rehabilitation facilities, none were without scars caused by boat strikes. The plight of the manatee is very real and very serious–people want to play with them and they end up harassing them–swimming around them, trying to catch them, disturbing rest and feeding patterns, grabbing on and riding them, regularly separating mothers and calves, and driving them away from the warm waters they need to survive–which can quite literally mean driving them to their deaths. You’d be amazed at how clueless tourists in snorkel excursion boats can be, splashing into the water, flailing, trying to get close enough to touch a manatee despite laws and guidelines that prohibit it (for the animal’s safety and survival).

One of my favorite organizations is the Save the Manatee Club in Florida. It was started by Jimmy Buffet who was angered by the treatment of these gentle giants (I know–“gentle giant” is a hackneyed phrase, but so very apt…especially when one swims right past you, less than a foot away, like a silent gliding Volkswagen in the murky green water).

Some of the most recent study results found by the Save the Manatee Club are alarming, and I hope will inspire your support and advocacy. “Manatees remain at great risk, especially from boat strikes, which are the largest known cause of manatee deaths and the biggest threat to their long-term survival.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported that a record-breaking 97 manatees were killed by watercraft in 2009 — another 12 from other human-related causes, which is a total of 109 manatees killed as a result of human activity (34% where cause of death could be determined).  Last year was the worst ever for manatees, with records broken for the total number of deaths, 429, statewide, and the number killed by boats.  In 2010, 171 dead manatees were documented in Florida waters through January 30th, with at least 128 of those deaths caused by cold stress.”

Think about a fun Valentine or Easter gift this year: Adopt-a-Manatee, and support this fragile (threatened and nearly back onto on the “endangered” species list) and beautiful animal.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Karen V on February 20, 2010 at 9:42 PM

    They are quite amazing with Crystal River & Homosassa Springs being the place to see them.

    Up close they truly appear to be mammalian descendants of the elephant. Their skin is like an elephants with hair and all, mammies where they are on elephants, a snout that looks like a shrunken trunk and even nails on their flippers. They are plant eaters.

    Who says, there’s not such thing as evolution. Read of the discovery of a legged sea cow fossil in ’01, reported in Nat’l Geographic:

    They are dying in large numbers this winter in FL, as water temperatures:


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