SARASOTA, Fla. — It's worth a reminder: If you see manatees, it's best to just leave them be. It's also illegal to touch them.
The Sarasota Police Department on Sunday said its officers saw several of the sea cows mating near South Lido Beach. And while much has been written about not interacting with manatees, "quite a few folks were trying to touch them," the agency wrote.
Photos show a herd of at least five manatees swimming close to the shoreline. It's common to see their ritual in shallow waters and, in most cases, the animals are not stranded, injured or distressed, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
They're just doing their thing.
"If you encounter a herd, it's important to watch from a distance as these large, strong animals are focused on mating," the FWC wrote in an earlier Facebook post.
The public probably should be encouraging the herd's efforts as a record number of 1,101 manatees were confirmed dead in 2021 — an all-time high — largely attributed to a lack of seagrass food due to pollution. Conservation officials started the year throwing thousands of pounds of lettuce into the water along the state's east coast and it appeared to be a success.
The FWC reports 653 manatee deaths for 2022, which is below the pace during the same time last year at 888 deaths. Still, this year's figure is hundreds of deaths above what was reported in the previous five years.
Manatees are protected by state and federal law, making it illegal to feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, annoy, or molest manatees, according to the FWC. Violations range from fines up to $500 and/or 60 days imprisonment at the state level and fines up to $100,000 and/or a year in prison at the federal level.
Anyone who sees a manatee appearing to be injured or deceased is asked to call the FWC's wildlife alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922.