Leave Gentle Giants Alone

manatee in Wakulla Springs near TallahasseeBy P.C. Zick
manatee in Wakulla Springs near Tallahassee
By P.C. Zick

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.

Published by P. C. Zick

I write. It's as simple and as complicated as that. Storytelling creates our cultural legacy.

6 thoughts on “Leave Gentle Giants Alone

  1. You’re so right–humans pose a real threat to wildlife. I first learned about manatees in the seventies through Jack Cousteau and his diving series. I guess laws have changed since then. That man must have had quite a shock to be arrested. Maybe it will make others think before they act.


    1. Yes, the laws have changed. Manatees are considered an endangered species, and there are areas set aside as sanctuaries. Boat propellers are a threat as well. In almost all cases, it’s always best to leave the wild animal wild.


  2. Reminds me of the summer I worked in Yellowstone and the flyers we were required to give out to the tourists that a) the buffalo were not to be touched or to place children on them like a pony and b) no, the buffalo are not remote-controlled robots. Of course, we called them tour-ons. I mean….really. 😛
    This was so interesting!! Good read.


    1. It’s amazing to me. I worked for the fish and wildlife folks in Florida and you wouldn’t believe the calls I received as a public relations director. “Why is the bear in the backyard at the deer feeder?” one woman asked me on a Saturday. “He’s there for the food,” I replied. “But I’m feeding the deer, not the bears.” How can you argue with that illogical logic?


  3. Thank you for this excellent post Patricia! It’s so important to remember to leave wild animals wild. I so enjoy your posts. Thanks again! Gina


    1. Thank you, Gina. I like to remind folks about “living” with wild animals. When they think they’re helping or doing something harmless, they’re usually doing more harm. I love your blog Professions for Peace as well. It’s great to have such a positive reading each day.


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