Searching for warmer waters to spend the winter in, manatees are on the move.
That could mean in coastal areas the traveling aquatic mammals could pose a risk for boaters. Seasonal protection zones along Sunshine State waterways go into effect Tuesday, Nov. 15.
To avoid adding to the 91 reported manatee deaths caused by boat strikes this year, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are urging boaters to slow down in areas where the 1,000-pound mammals are known to congregate.
“Boaters who slow down and keep a lookout for Florida manatees are an important reason the overall population of this species is doing better,” said Carol Knox, leader of the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section.
Aerial tallies by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show that manatee numbers are up around the state with 6, 250 counted in February.
Locally, manatees seek the Wakulla Spring basin to take winter refuge. Over the past few years, Wakulla Springs State Park staff have conducted counts by boat, which show a downturn in the number of manatees in the park.
In the past two years, the number of manatees counted during their spring migration has dwindled. in 2015, three were counted, according to numbers provided by FWC. This year, seven were counted, but two years ago 31 were tallied by park officials.
Downriver from the park, which ends at the Highway 365 bridge, manatees are common at the convergence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers. Although there are no official FWC manatee zones, there are several areas along the stretch designated as no-wake zones.
Manatees can be hard to spot, but the circular traces they leave as they move their powerful tails can give away their location.