Manatee mating season is in full swing in the Sunshine State, and in order to protect the beloved sea cows, Florida officials are asking beachgoers to respect their distance during this crucial time for the species.
The stern request followed a manatee mating herd spotting in Sarasota on August 7. Several tourists reportedly tried to pet the animals while they tousled close to the shore, immediately throwing up red flags for local authorities.
In response, authorities took to social media to dissuade this behavior.
“We spotted manatees mating near South Lido Beach Sunday,” the Sarasota Police Department shared on Twitter. “Folks were trying to touch them. Please don’t.”
The Mote Marine Lab reiterated, “If you see a manatee mating herd, observe respectfully from a distance. Do NOT touch. If you see a distressed/deceased manatee, call Mote’s hotline 888-345-2335.”
It’s not difficult to spot a manatee mating herd. In fact, even without any prior knowledge, you’ll likely be able to figure out what’s happening. But just in case, here’s an explanation of what you may find while exploring one of Florida’s beaches from SeaWorld Parks.
“Mating takes place in the water in a variety of postures,” Mote explained. “Breeding herds consist of one cow in estrus accompanied by several bulls. An estrus female can be pursued for weeks by several males. The cow often twists and turns violently, apparently to escape her suitors.”
When cows feel stressed, they won’t want to participate in mating and may try to evade her suitors. If a tourist tries to pet or crowd the cow, they may be perpetuating this stress on the already delicate situation.
Increase in Manatee Starvation Poses Threat to Florida Population
Recently, the Florida manatee population has seen a huge win as the species numbers have raised to over 7,500, as of 2017. This bumped the mammals off of the Endangered Species List and gave them a new status of a “threatened” species. While this may mean a more secure future for the animals, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute warns that there is another problem on the horizon.
“Unprecedented manatee mortality due to starvation was documented on the Atlantic coast this past winter and spring,” the Institute said in a statement, per NPR. “Most deaths occurred during the colder months when manatees migrated to and through the Indian River Lagoon, where the majority of seagrass has died off.”
According to CBS News, 1,101 Florida manatees died from starvation just last year. Without a clear reason behind the deaths, it is more imperative than ever that the species successfully reproduce. The best way to support manatees is to observe from afar and report any misconduct or animals in distress to authorities.