HBPD guards manatee herd from crowd

Holmes Beach police stood guard May 8 to keep curious onlookers at bay while a herd of manatees frolicked in the shallow water off 79th Street.

Spring brings the mating season for the manatee, an endangered species under both federal and Florida law.

And mating activity can bring people, creating a potentially perilous situation for both types of mammals.

At about 5 p.m. May 8, the Holmes Beach Police Department dispatched officers to the beach near 79th Street where the officers found a “large group of people swimming near 13 manatees near the shoreline.”

Police ordered the swimmers away from the manatees and notified staff at Mote Marine Laboratory and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission of the situation.

FWC biologist Andy Garrett said the agency was notified that “people were unruly, getting concerned, wanting to touch the animals.”

So the HBPD officers remained on the beach for hours, guarding the manatees, “keeping the large crowd out of the water,” according to a police report.

After 10 p.m., 12 manatees swam into deeper water. One, a female, was not injured but was stranded, said Garrett, who drove to the beach.

“Most of the water had gone off the animal,” he said.

He examined and micro-chipped the manatee and then, with the assistance of HBPD, placed the animal on a stretcher and carried it into deeper water. The manatee then swam away.

Mating herds “are all over the bay,” said Garrett, adding that the mating season continues through the summer.

The biologist said people who see the manatees “want to get close,” but they should not. Getting too close can be dangerous. It also is against the law.

Garrett cited several instances in which curious people put themselves and manatees at risk. There was, for example, the couple who put their child on the back of a manatee to ride the animal like a horse. And, in another situation, there was the East Coast incident in which a crowd of onlookers formed a human chain, barring a herd from swimming into deeper water.

“Watch from a distance,” Garrett stressed. “Enjoy from a distance to allow the animals to do what they do and for the safety of people.”

Manatees in mating season

Seeing manatees in the water?

Mote Marine Laboratory offers the following guidelines for sharing local waters with the endangered species:

• Watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Getting any closer can disrupt the animals’ natural mating behavior or put people in harm’s way. Adult manatees weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds.

• Don’t try to push the animals into deeper water. Manatees, as well as dolphins, can be injured when people push them along the sandy shore.

• Don’t provide food or water to manatees. Federal and state laws prohibits such.

• Don’t touch manatees. Federal and state laws against harassing the animals includes a prohibition against touching them.