November is Manatee Awareness Month, and for good reason. Florida manatees are on the move, seeking warm-water sites to spend the winter. That means boaters must be cautious and watch for Florida's official marine mammal and for changing speed zones on waterways.
Manatees generally start traveling to warm water when the air temperature drops below 50 degrees or when the water temperature dips to 68 degrees.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) changes seasonal speed zone signs in mid-November on many waterways to accommodate manatee migration.
Boaters should scan the water near or in front of the boat - looking for swirls resembling a large footprint, a repetitive line of half-moon swirls, a mud trail, or a snout or fluke (tail) breaking the water's surface. Kipp Frohlich, leader of FWC's Imperiled Species Management Section, said boaters can help manatees have a safe migration by staying in marked channels, wearing polarized sunglasses to improve vision, obeying posted boat speed zones, using poles, paddles or trolling motors when in close proximity to manatees, and having someone help scan the water when under way.
"If you think you see a manatee, give it plenty of room because it may not be alone. It may have a calf or be traveling with other manatees," Frohlich said.
Besides slowing down and following the FWC's recommendations, residents can help manatees survive by purchasing the specialty manatee license plate. The funds collected for these plates go directly into manatee research and conservation.
For more information about manatees, visit MyFWC.com/manatee/.