As you enjoy Southwest Florida’s coastal waters this summer, Mote recommends that boaters follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles, manatees and dolphins. Mote scientists are also asking boaters to keep an eye out for whale sharks moving through our region.
Florida’s Gulf Coast waters aren’t just beautiful for boating — they also provide important habitat for many protected species. Sea turtles are swimming just offshore to mate before the females come ashore to nest, juvenile turtles are feeding along the Gulf Coast, and by early summer the first hatchlings will venture into Gulf waters. So far this year, Mote has recovered several sea turtles suspected to have been struck by boats. Turtles are also nesting on local beaches, so watching out for them is especially important.
Dolphins are giving birth during late spring and summer, and they frequently use shallow waters where they can not dive below an approaching boat. During spring and summer 2012, four resident dolphins were struck by boats in Sarasota waters, and one new calf died as a result. So far in May 2013, two brand new dolphin calves have been seen with long-term resident Sarasota Bay mothers.
Manatees are also on the move, returning to our bay waters for foraging and mating.
Here are specific ways to help keep our waters safe for marine life:
If you see an entangled, stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle 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.
Boaters should follow 10 dolphin-friendly viewing tips. Click here for a PDF: mote.org/dolphinfriendly. These tips were made with dolphins in mind, but they’re also great guidelines for the best ways to view all large marine animals.
Wearing polarized sunglasses can help boaters see marine life in their path.
Boaters and beachgoers should never feed marine wildlife. Click here to watch a PSA about why it’s harmful and illegal to feed wild dolphins: dontfeedwilddolphins.org.
Beachgoers should stay away from sea turtle nests marked with yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones that are bounded by ropes. For numbers of sea turtle nests each week, along with more tips on how to protect sea turtles, visit mote.org/2013nesting.
Be sure to stow trash and line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.
If you observe a manatee mating herd – several manatees gathered as males vie to mate with a female – watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer might 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.
Special Note about Whale Sharks: Mote scientists are asking members of the public to immediately report any sightings of whale sharks along Southwest Florida’s coast. A whale shark — the largest fish species on Earth — was seen May 8 about 20 miles off Venice. These gentle filter-feeding fish are seen in various places in the Gulf of Mexico and sporadically visit Southwest Florida’s coastal waters, most likely to feed on localized blooms of plankton or possibly on fish eggs. Mote scientists are collecting reports of whale shark sightings to look for possible patterns to their movements in our waters.
Please report whale shark sightings immediately by calling Mote’s Center for Shark Research at(941) 388-1827. Note the number of whale sharks you saw along with the time, date and location (GPS coordinates if possible). Provide your phone number and/or e-mail and note whether you can provide photos.
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