It’s Manatee Awareness Month!
These gentle animals seem slow and not too smart. But get to know them and you’ll discover they’re fascinating and quite intelligent.
They generally prefer to be left alone to eat, play, and rest. Unfortunately, we can’t seem to leave them or their habitat alone, which threatens their survival.
And that’s why we need Manatee Awareness Month.
The state of Florida declared November Manatee Awareness Month in 2005. The goal is to promote protection of these gentle animals.
It happens in November because that’s when manatees come closer to Florida’s shores, seeking the warmer coastal waters there.
This awareness month is different from Manatee Appreciation Day in March.
The manatees living around Florida and up the east coast are the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus). There are also two other species: the Amazonian manatee (Trichechus inunguis and the West African manatee (Trichechus senegalensis).
The US Fish and Wildlife Service added the manatee to the endangered species list in 1972. In January 2016 the USFWS proposed downgrading the West Indian Manatee to threatened, meaning they’re no longer in danger of extinction.
As of February 2016 the population of Florida manatees numbered about 6,250. This is up from an estimated 1,267 in 1991.
While this is good news, it doesn’t mean the manatees don’t need protection any more. “Threatened” just means a population is likely to become endangered.
Luckily they’re still protected under both the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.
The leading cause of manatee deaths is still collisions with watercraft.
Habitat loss due to residential development is also deadly for the manatee. And it’s not a matter of preferring certain habitats. They literally need warm coastal waters to survive. They suffer cold stress below 68 degrees, and it’s been killing more and more manatees each year.
Red tides produce neurotoxins that manatees may both inhale and eat when it coats the seagrasses they eat. The resulting seizures may cause them to drown. Unfortunately, red tides have gotten bigger and more persistent recently.
Plus, humans directly harassing manatees can cause them to change their behavior. Most of the time people aren’t trying to hurt them, but just feeding them or disturbing them when they’re resting can put them in danger. People have even been known to ride them.
Scroll down for some ideas on celebrating this caring holiday.
Learn more about manatees from the Save the Manatee Club.
If you’re boating—or even just swimming—in Florida waters, follow Defenders of Wildlife’s tips for protecting manatees. They include slowing down, staying alert for signs of manatees, and staying away from posted manatee sanctuary areas.
Support organizations that work to protect the manatee and its habitat.
As always, check out any organization you’re thinking of giving money to. Only you can decide if you approve of the way it uses donations.
Do you have any other ideas for celebrating Manatee Awareness Month?
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