Exploring Endangered Species: Gentle Giants


Momo Sutton

Manatee at Blue Spring State Park.

Momo Sutton, Reporter

“Gentle Giants” is a nickname given to manatees due to their slow and peaceful nature. In addition, manatees usually spend their days eating a variety of grass around their habitat, earning them yet another name: “sea cow”.

Despite their amicable ways, the Florida manatee subspecies is listed as endangered since the population size consists of less than 2,500 mature individuals according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN). Moreover, the population is estimated to decline by at least 20% over the next 40 years due to anticipated changes in warm-water habitats and threats from increasing watercraft traffic over the next several decades.

Humans have a history of hunting manatees, but today manatees are more threatened by human ignorance and carelessness. People commonly wound and kill manatees by using motorized watercrafts in their habitats. This problem is most severe for Florida manatees living in densely populated coastal areas. The ICUN states that about half of all deaths among adult Florida manatees can be attributed to human activities, and the main threat comes from watercraft collisions, which account for about 25% of all Florida manatee deaths. Due to their slow speed, high buoyancy, and tendency to feed on seagrass in shallow water, manatees often cannot escape fast-moving boats and jet skis. A collision can hurt a manatee by blunt force from the hull of a vessel, or cutting injuries from a propeller.

Furthermore, entanglement in fishing lines and nets poses another threat to manatees. Although people do target manatees in some places with traps, nets, and baited hooks, they are also widely killed by fishing gear intended for other animals.

However, Blue Spring State Park works actively to provide a safe resting place for manatees along Crystal River. Michael Watkins, park manager, says, “During manatee season (November through March), Blue Spring State Park is a winter haven as manatees seek warmer 72-degree spring water. The park’s record count is 566 manatees – I like to brag that this is the unofficial world record.”

Spreading awareness of these gentle giants can help prevent human ignorance in the future.