Manatee Madness

I’m working on a story about environmental threats to the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), and the unusual mortality events in which both manatees and dolphins are dying in record numbers in 2013.

The story is mostly about how development impacts the water quality in the IRL, and how that might affect the health of manatees and dolphins. But humanity also poses a direct threat to manatees, both from boat strikes as well as from wanting to get close to lovable manatees.

Treehugger recently posted a story about the latter problem, featuring a saddening time-lapse video of all the human activity around a favorite manatee winter gathering spot–a place where they are trying to keep warm and conserve energy in the winter:

Here, in a timelapse video made by Mittermeier and fellow photographer Neil Ever Osborne, you can see just how much interaction the manatees are forced to deal with all day, every day. You’ll even see a manatee stampede, which happens when a sudden loud noise onshore scares them. Mittermeier states that this happens several times a day. The video reveals just how little space manatees get for themselves, and how much more protection we need to be offering these animals who are, we cannot forget, members of an endangered species.

It doesn’t look very restful for the manatees. And the exclusion area set up is pathetically small. This is one of the many paradoxes of humanity: we often harm even the things we say we love.

7 thoughts on “Manatee Madness”

  1. Truly interesting observation. I am not sure if people are aware of the dynamics of their interest. This should be freely published and also presented to wildlife management in this region.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I had seen the video too.

    I actually had booked to do this last summer but didn’t end up doing it because Tripical storm passed through and muddied all the water and then we had to go home. We booked it on a groupon so the company didn’t get full money so at least that’s something?

    I really had neglected to think about the density of people in the area doing it and never imagined it would be like the video showed & am glad I didn’t do it.

    Messages are confusing though – I went to a whale conservation convention last year & 2 well respected wildlife cameramen/photographers/conservationists, in separate talks mentioned what a great experience it was and championing doing it.

    I love manatees and after having missed them and then hearing the 2 ohotographers talk about them too I never imagined it would be damaging.

  3. I don’t think it’s so bad. Videos like this always cause emotional and sensationalised hype. People need to do more research or go out and experience it firsthand instead of reacting emotionally to these kinds of things. I found the Tour Operators in Crystal River to be very diligent and the laws in place to protect manatees in Florida are among the best in the world considering it’s a place where humans are still allowed to interact with these amazing (and very patient) animals in the wild. Tours like this need to happen along with education, because unless people learn to respect manatees and love them, they will do nothing to help them. It’s down to consumers at the end of the day, if you don’t want this – then visit in the off-season – you’ll only get to see 1 or 2 maybe, but it won’t be like this. The best thing people can do to if they truly want to help a manatee is stop polluting the ocean, do what you can to halt climate change (manatees are a bio-indicator species – they eat vegetation only – if they’re numbers are dying – the plants are dying – and something is wrong), stop using imported goods (shipping for importing/exporting kills more manatees & dugongs per year than any tour or tourist), stop using fossil fuels. Donate or volunteer to a Marine Mammal Protection program. Do more than just be shocked by an emotional video.

    1. Great comment, and I love your list of actions. But I am skeptical of the argument that says we need to invade the lives of wild animals so that we will love them and protect them. It is too easy to use that as a rationale to give ourselves what we want: the experience and emotion that comes with getting up close to a marine mammal. Caring about animals and the environment is possible without impacting (negatively) animals and the environment. It is about education and a way of thinking about ourselves and how we relate to the planet and the other species on it. Sure, hanging out with a pack of manatees can help you “care” about manatees, but it should be possible to care without inserting ourselves into their lives in ways which can be harmful.

  4. we have a similar problem with people viewing baby seals in Kaikoura at the Ohau waterfalls, people always want too much and get too close. Very sad for the Manatees

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