By Patricia Zick @PCZick
Florida manatees flock together in the winter as they head to warmer waters. As the temperatures dip in the ocean and river mouths, some water remains at a constant temperature. Power plants with their warm water discharges are an attractive gathering place for the sea cows, which can cause some confusion when boats need to come in and out of those areas. Manatees swimming near the rivers that lead to freshwater springs head to the 72 degree constant temperature of the water flowing up out of the Floridan aquifer.
It becomes life threatening when the large mammals don’t get to the warm waters in time. Cold-stress syndrome may cause the manatees respiratory problems as well as confusion.
Manatees are gentle creatures and unfortunately show little fear when around humans. But the biggest threat to the endangered species is man and his boats. Also, add humans who insist on touching, playing, and filming interactions with manatees.
One man found out recently that the cost of taking pictures of him hugging a young manatee and his children sitting on the calf’s back is quite high. Ryan William Waterman took his daughters to Taylor Creek in St. Lucie County, located on the east coast between Daytona and West Palm Beach. A young manatee, somehow separated from its mother, swam up to them. The young man took pictures of his children and him playing with the manatee. Then he posted the photos on Facebook.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) found the pictures and arrested Mr. Waterman in February.
When my husband saw the photos, he said, “The manatee doesn’t seem to mind.”
Maybe. But the biologists with the FWC fear the manatee may have been separated from its mother too soon. Also, the calf exhibited signs of suffering from cold-stress syndrome. The manatee may not have minded or been afraid of the seemingly harmless play by humans, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s harmful in the long term, and as Mr. Waterman found out, it’s illegal.
The FWC issued a statement via a new release about the arrest, which states, “An interaction that may seem harmless and innocent may ultimately have serious consequences for manatees and other wildlife.”
In the case of manatees, the act of playing with the sea cow falls under the Florida Sanctuary Act making it illegal “to injure, harm, harass, capture, or attempt to capture” a Florida manatee. Violation of the Act is a second-degree misdemeanor with charges up sixty days in jail and a $500 fine.
The allure of the manatee and other animals of the wild is tempting, especially when we see them in controlled environments in zoos, theme parks, and aquariums.
But when wild animals lose their fear of humans, we become their enemy, not their friend.