Respect and Protect Sea Life While Boating This Summer
Submitted by MOTE Marine Laboratory
We hope you are having a fabulous summer, but remember to keep your celebrations safe for sea life this summer.
Mote Marine Laboratory recommends that boaters follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and keep a close eye out to avoid striking dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. Mote also urges beachgoers to take special care to respect sea turtles and their nests on local beaches, which were hit hard in June by flooding and erosion due to Tropical Storm Debby. Sea turtles and marine mammals such as manatees and dolphins are all protected under federal law.
Mote Marine Laboratory runs animal hospitals for dolphins, small whales and sea turtles. They are currently taking care of a sick dolphin named Edna. You can see updates on Edna at www.mote.org/edna. Mote’s animal hospitals are always grateful for donations. Because Mote Marine Laboratory is a nonprofit organization, support from the public is very important to them as they provide top-notch care for marine life in need. You can make donations at www.mote.org/hospitalhelp.
The following are updates about how our local marine species are faring this summer, along with tips on how you can safely share our waters and beaches with the animals that call them home.
Stormy weather during Tropical Storm Debby in June destroyed or concealed a majority of sea turtle nests from Longboat Key south through Venice, according to preliminary reports from Mote Marine Laboratory scientists who continue to document the impacts of the storm. Until Debby, nesting numbers were looking great, with more nests laid between April and June 2012 than during all of the 2011 nesting season. Sea turtle experts hope that the high number of nests laid so far this year on local beaches will help offset losses from the storm.
• Read Mote’s June 27 update about storm impacts on local sea turtle nests by visiting www.mote.org/index.php?cid=6643149&src=news&srctype=detail&category=Newsroom&refno=612&curlid=290807.
• For weekly nesting counts posted each Monday, visit www.mote.org/2012nesting.
In addition, Mote’s Stranding Investigations program has recovered several large sea turtles struck by boats this summer. You can help sea turtles by remaining vigilant while boating and by following these tips on the beach:
• If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance
• Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October
• Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water
• Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water
• Place trash in its proper place
• Stay away from sea turtle nests, typically marked with annotated yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones that are bounded by ropes. Dogs are not allowed on Sarasota County beaches other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice, where they must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances
• Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles
• Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach
• Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water
• Use fireworks on the beach
This is the time of year that manatees gather in groups as males try to mate with females that are ready to conceive. Often, as the female tries to evade her male suitors, large groups of up to a dozen or so manatees will end up in shallow waters along beaches. So far this year, Mote scientists have documented several mating herds in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, including areas off both Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Boaters and beachgoers should give mating herds a wide berth — both for your own safety and for that of the manatees. People get in the water and try to interact with these herds, but that can disrupt the animals’ normal mating behavior and it could also result in humans being injured. Single mating herds can last several weeks and be highly active as male manatees bustle around a female. Individual manatees may also rest at the surface for several hours. This is typical behavior and not a cause for concern.
• Watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer may disrupt the animals’ natural mating behavior or put people into harm’s way. Adult manatees typically weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and people could be seriously injured
• Try to push the animals back to deeper water. Animals such as manatees or dolphins can be injured when people try to push them along the sandy shore. Given their size, manatees especially also pose a danger to people
• Feed, water or harass manatees. Federal and state laws forbid “harassing” them – harassment includes offering them food or water
• Litter. Please be careful with your trash and carry out everything you carried to the beach
Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, please call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at (941)988-0212.
If you see an entangled, stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at (888)404-FWCC (3922), #FWC, *FWC on your cellular phone or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.
During late spring and summer, the resident bottlenose dolphins of Sarasota Bay are busy giving birth to calves. As of June 29, at least eight calves have been born so far this year in the Bay – including the granddaughter of Nicklo, the Bay’s oldest dolphin.
“We’re in the height of calving season, so it’s especially important to be vigilant while boating,” said Dr. Randall Wells, director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, a collaboration between the Chicago Zoological Society and Mote. “Historically, the period of heavy boat traffic around the Fourth of July has been when most boat strikes on dolphins have occurred, typically involving mothers and their naive calves.” Boats pass within 100 yards of each of the 160 year-round resident dolphins of Sarasota Bay once every six minutes on average during daylight hours – and about five percent of local dolphins have boat scars – according to program scientists, who have closely monitored this population for 42 years. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population.
• Boaters should follow 10 dolphin-friendly viewing tips. Visit www.mote.org/dolphinfriendly for a PDF of tips
• Never feed wild dolphins. Please visit www.
dontfeedwilddolphins.org to watch a PSA about why it’s harmful and illegal to feed wild dolphins.