Q&A with a Manatee Conservationist
Photo Credit: Save the Manatee Club
We Floridians love manatees and, since the theme for the Summer Reading Program this year is Tales & Tails, you can participate in several manatee-focused programs. This month, Save the Manatee Club will present Manatee Conservation about sea cows and how you can protect them. To pique your interest, Ally Greco, Director Communications & Outreach for the club, answered some questions for us about these fascinating creatures.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH MANATEE CONSERVATION?
I have always loved wildlife and marine mammals, but I fell in love with manatees during a visit to Crystal River to view them on a tour. Learning about the threats they faced made me want to help speak up for them. Later on, I became a volunteer with Save the Manatee Club, helping at events and as a manatee observer at Blue Spring State Park. Eventually, I joined the Save the Manatee Club team and help to educate the public about these awesome animals!
IS THERE ONE COMMON MISCONCEPTION ABOUT MANATEES YOU’D LIKE TO DISPEL?
Manatees are truly gentle giants. They are herbivores, so they don’t need to hunt, and they don’t have any predators either. Alligators and sharks coexist peacefully with manatees. So, manatees never evolved to swim very fast – they usually travel at speeds between 3 to 5 miles per hour. This slow speed, coupled with the fact that they need to surface to breathe air, makes manatees naturally susceptible to dangerous collisions with watercraft, especially those that are speeding. Manatees are not like the speedy dolphins you may encounter on the water. Most of the time, a fast boat is simply no match for a slow-moving manatee who is trying to get out of the way quickly. We can all do our part to reduce this risk by following posted speed zones in areas where manatees frequent.
WHAT IS THE MANATEE MERMAID CONNECTION?
Throughout history, sailors sometimes thought they were seeing mermaids when they were probably seeing manatees. With a little imagination, manatees have an uncanny resemblance to the human form that could only increase after long months at sea. Maybe the way they surface to breathe and flutter their tail made them seem like mythical mermaids to sailors who were exploring new lands and relating the new cultures, landscapes, animals, and plants they discovered to more familiar objects from home.
PEOPLE SHOULD NEVER PET, TOUCH, RIDE OR DISTURB MANATEES – THEY ARE WILD ANIMALS AND KEEPING THEM WILD HELPS PROTECT THEM.
WILL MANATEES APPROACH HUMANS IN THE WATER? IF SO, WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU ARE APPROACHED OR IF YOU FIND YOURSELF TOO CLOSE TO A MANATEE BY ACCIDENT?
Manatees are very curious and like to check things out with their vibrissae, which are tiny tactile hairs on their snouts and bodies that help them sense things in their environment. So, if they’re coming up close to you on the water, they may just be checking out what’s in their environment – they don’t necessarily want to be pet or disturbed! People should never pet, touch, ride or disturb manatees – they are wild animals and keeping them wild helps protect them. You should never feed or give water to a manatee either. If you find yourself too close to a manatee by accident, remain still and observe them passively, without touch. Let the manatee move on and try to give it space.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE INTERESTED IN GETTING INVOLVED IN MANATEE CONSERVATION?
I would recommend volunteering! Save the Manatee Club has in-person volunteer opportunities around Florida and virtual volunteer opportunities as well. Many of our conservation partners also have volunteer opportunities. Volunteering, even as little as once a month or a few times per year, allows you to learn new things and meet new people that can help you become more involved with a cause. If you live far away from manatee habitat, I recommend volunteering or interning somewhere nearby that offers opportunities with a similar mission, such as a local wildlife or nature center, or your local parks department. To learn more, go to savethemanatee.org/volunteer.
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