The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the United States. With more than 2,000 species of animals, 700 species of fish, and 310 species of birds, there are more than a few locals you haven’t met yet. In this series we at 321 Boat Club hope to educate you on the many different types of wildlife you may encounter while you are enjoying your time on the water. In this first installment, we’ll dive right in and talk about one of Florida’s most recognizable residents, the manatee.
Meeting a Manatee
Manatees are water-dwelling mammals that grace the inter-coastal waters of Florida. There are two species of manatees in the world, the West Indian Manatees you will meet while motoring along the Mosquito Lagoon, and Dugongs who call the waterways of Indonesia their home. Manatees are relatives of the elephant which is made apparent by their tough, wrinkly skin. They have two flippers that help them move – slowly – around and eat sea grasses, and a wide paddle-like tail that helps propel them – slowly – through the water when then sense danger. Manatees eat only sea grasses which prompted the moniker of “Sea Cow,” and prefer warmer waters around 70 degrees fahrenheit. Which means that in the winter they often flee the Indian River Lagoon and pack into channels where their body heat and shallow water can keep them warm. Manatees are extremely curious creatures and will commonly go to where activity in the water is. This can be problematic because they are also extremely slow creatures which causes them to be struck by boats frequently. It is extremely important for boaters of all vessels to pay attention to all posted signs and abide by no-wake zones and manatee habitat speeds to avoid collision.
Spotting A Manatee
A manatee sighting is a truly Floridian experience and one that everyone enjoys. To spot them you must look closely. Their grey skin is often camouflaged by the murky waters of the Indian River Lagoon and Banana River, so keep your eyes peeled. When manatees move they use their paddle-like tails to propel themselves through the water. On the surface this will appear as a glassy circle surrounded by ripples. Some refer to this as an “oil slick” because the river goes on looking like the river with its waves and currents, but this ring of placid water remains. If you ever see this stick around, a manatee is about. Because they are mammals they will need to come up for air. Whiskered snouts will often surface, but in some cases the whole head of the manatee will emerge to say hello to curious boaters and check out what’ going on on the surface. You will often see manatees in groups of up to ten or fifteen and as little as two or three. They like to barrel roll, and swim around to play while they munch their seagrass lunches. Because there is no “mating season” for manatees, seeing baby manatees with their mothers is common at all times of the year. It is important that you leave the manatees alone. While they are slow, and gentle creatures, they are still wild animals who deserve respect in their homes. Do not touch, swim with, or feed a manatee if you are lucky enough to see one. Simply watching these creatures is a delight you will only have in Florida. If you are scheduling your boat membership excursion to search for manatees, do so in the spring and summer when they are most active. When the water begins to cool, they retreat for the inland springs and canals that provide them warmer waters to frolic in.
Keeping Manatees Safe
A 321 Boat Club Membership affords you the opportunity to see manatees in their natural habitat every day of the year. It is up to you and our community of boat club members to help keep these gentle creatures safe. You can do this by following posted speeds in manatee habitats and no-wake zones. By learning how to spot a manatee you can look for them while you are out and about in the Indian River Lagoon and alert other boaters to their presence so they can slow down and see them too. Another way you can protect the manatees of Central Florida is by making sure you do not litter in the lagoon. Keeping all garbage out of the water – even compostables like apple cores and banana peels – is important for all wildlife. If you pack it in, make sure to pack it out. The manatees are depending on you!
At 321 Boat Club we are happy to be so close to the real locals of Brevard County. We hope that every time you pick up one of our fleet, that you have the privilege of spotting one of our most famous locals, the West Indian Manatee.