Recently, marine mammals have become headline news. We hear about dolphins and whales that are lost or separated from their pods and controversial issues that have arisen that disregard marine mammal protection laws. Recent issues have to do with the import of beluga whales into facilities in the United States, humans getting too close to marine mammals, and the wellbeing of animals living in dolphinariums. In the midst of all of this, manatees have been receiving attention as well.
It is estimated that there are only around 5000 manatees left in the United States. As the Florida Keys Manatee Rescue Team, Dolphin Research Center is dedicated to raising awareness about protecting these large marine mammals that live in our backyard.
Manatees have no natural predators, yet their population remains endangered. There are many threats to manatee safety, some of which are a direct result of human interaction. Speeding on boats and not properly discarding fishing line are two of the biggest issues. However, there are also the issues that have to do with humans coming into direct contact with manatees.
The U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals, including cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises), pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sirenians (manatees and dugongs), sea otters, and polar bears within the waters of the United States. This means people may not harass, feed, hunt, capture, or kill any of them or collect any part of a marine mammal.
Interacting with any marine mammal in the wild disturbs their natural behavior, whether meant to or not. It may seem like a manatee is just floating in the water, but they may be foraging for food or tending to their calf. While some think they are aiding marine mammals by feeding them or letting them drink from a hose, this behavior actually causes the animals to seek out humans for their nourishment. This in turn results in more marine mammals getting hit by boats, suffering from malnutrition, and could possibly lead to death.
While you would never purposely harm a marine mammal, that doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. It’s natural and necessary for wild marine mammals to be wary of human interaction so that they continue to be self reliant and teach future generations to be resilient.
Dolphin Research Center is the only licensed manatee rescue team in the Florida Keys. We work together with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to go out and assess the severity of a manatee in distress. Click http://www.dolphins.org/about_manatee_rescue.php for more information.
If you see a manatee with an entanglement, injuries, or being harassed, please call 1-888-404-FWCC. Your call will be answered by the FWCC. This is the first step in launching a trained, authorized response to aid the animal.