Boaters Beware! Lovable Beasts on the Move!
By Dan Breitwieser, WCJB TV 20 News.
As water temperatures heat up in the Gulf, manatees leave their winter grazing grounds in North Central Florida rivers and springs in favor of open water. Because of higher water levels boaters need to be even more careful than usual.
Manatees are nothing new especially on the Suwannee and Crystal rivers, among others. But it's the first time in three years that there's been enough water to allow manatees to visit the Ichetucknee. We tried to find one for ourselves-- but they weren't an easy prey.
It's full speed ahead on the hunt for the manatee. But don't worry--no weapons or hunting permits needed for finding a lovable lumbering load that proved to be quite elusive. We're looking to shoot this one with a camera.
"It's dark water," says Officer Dorvan Daniel with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "If they hear a boat, a lot of times they are shy and they go under the water and you won't see them."
No luck Thursday at Manatee Springs, and we missed them by a half hour at Fanning Springs. It's one of nature's anomalies... migrating south for the summer. So we drifted along the shore... quietly... hoping to hear the distinctive sucking of air sound from a sea cow surfacing to breathe. Even help from above in the form of a helicopter pilot was no help at all. So we kept drifting, hoping to get a few shots from a manatee coming to check out our boat. Did I mention you needed patience on this hunt?
"It's pretty neat to see," says Daniel. "They kind of graze along the bottom and feed on the grass."
Though a manatee would not be in our cards, other quiet grazers like a deer were. There was no shortage of turtles, or even a small gator. The only manatee we would capture on film would be from a few signs warning boaters to be careful.
"If you really want to see a manatee, just sit and drift and you'll hear the sucking of air," says Daniel.
It also might help to not invite me or a camera.
All hunting jokes aside, manatees are still an endangered species. Anyone caught annoying, harming or even touching them can face jail time. Although the migration is underway now, manatees can stay in North Central Florida rivers throughout the summer so obey all posted speed zones, and be sure to slow down especially in shallow waters and when you are around a lot of other boats.
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