Friday, February 03, 2006
I know sometimes, those who know me will agree, I talk a lot of shit. I say outlandish things like "I wonder if sea cow tastes like beef," mostly to get a rise out of people. However, manatees are pretty fascinating creatures. They are one of only a few animals that can eat and digest seagrass (along with sea turtles, urchins and very few fish). They get very big (1000 pounds), flippers with fingernails, a broad, round tail and whiskers. They are also very slow moving. This is the problem. Since they eat seagrass, they are often in shallow waters, where they encounter boaters. In many places in Florida, shallow waters and also certain rather large areas are designated as manatee zones where you cannot wake. However, many boaters ignore these limits (as Tait can attest). It is really a shame, mostly because manatees are cool. You can just be sitting on your dock on a canal or the intercoastal and a manatee will show up. They are not too scared of people and some that live in more populated areas even hang out by the docks.
apparently Florida legislatures are trying to get the manatees removed from the endangered species list. This is unacceptable. Perhaps the population is growing, but 100s still die every year from human and natural causes. Last year alone, almost 400 manatees died, some due to watercraft sustained injuries, some due to a red tide bloom. It was the second highest death toll since records started being kept. What's worse about this whole situation is that their method of tracking the population numbers is via aerial surveys, which are highly variable. In 1992, for instance, an aerial survey counted 1,844 manatees in the state. Last year, an aerial survey counted 3,143. In the years between, aerial survey counts varied by as much as 1,000 from one year to the next.
There are 4 sub-populations in Florida. 2 of the populations appear to be increasing, the northwest and St John's populations, although researchers say those two combined make up only 16% of the total Florida population. The other 2 populations aren't doing as well, the Atlantic population appears to be stable or changing slightly and the southwest population is in decline. With all of this information, how can legislators still want to change the status of the manatee? I just don't understand.
You can help, fortunately. There are numerous manatee organizations that raise awareness. One such organization is the Save the Manatee club which you can donate money, adopt manatees, and it also has links so you can write your congressman. Hopefully we can keep this big creatures around for a while longer.