Paddling Safely Near Manatees

Manatees frequent the waters around Sanibel and Captiva during the warmer months of the year.

Manatees frequent the waters around Sanibel and Captiva during the warmer months of the year.

As winter in Florida comes to an end and our waters begin to warm up, it is a great time to spot manatees around Sanibel. Even with their thick, leathery skin, these docile creatures are unable to thrive in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and can get cold stress syndrome, a cold-related disease that is sometimes fatal. But now they are beginning to migrate back to our area after taking shelter in warmer zones for the past few months.

One of the best ways to observe these majestic creatures is from the comfort of your paddle craft, which allows for minimal disturbance and habitat damage. From your quiet vessel, manatees are likely to behave naturally, going about their usual business. Even though paddling is usually peaceful and safe, paddlers are not exempt from the rules governing the protection of this endangered species.

When paddling, give wildlife the same level of personal space that you might desire for yourself. You are responsible for looking out for animals, and you should only observe manatees and other creatures from a distance. Manatees are very curious, and have been known to lose their natural caution at the sight of humans and vessels. Even if a manatee approaches your vessel, you should try to minimize contact. Remember that manatees have a powerful tail that can flip your vessel or upend you if the animal makes an abrupt, forceful move to get away. Always ensure that you are far enough away that the manatee does not become scared or aggressive. When you behave respectfully towards wildlife as a paddler, you are sure to have many exciting chances to observe creatures in their natural habitat.

Ocean Tribe Outfitters is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that helps the SWFL paddling community better explore, enjoy, and understand the ocean. Visit oceantribeoutfitters.org or follow us on Facebook to learn more.