CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Officials with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources asks boaters to watch out for manatees as you head to the water this holiday weekend.
As manatees return to coastal waters this summer, DNR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) biologists are reminding residents and visitors to be particularly alert while boating and to report sightings of the gentle giants online.
The Department of Natural Resources describes manatees, or sea cows, as large marine mammals that reach around 10-feet in length and weigh up to a ton.
Manatees usually arrive in South Carolina in May and leave the area by November as water temperatures cool off.
Because of the difficulty of counting them in murky waters, South Carolina’s manatee population is currently unknown – but it’s a small fraction of the United States’ estimated 6,600 animals, most of which remain in Florida.
Due to federal and state protections, it’s illegal to hunt, play with or harass manatees, which includes touching, providing water to or attempting to feed them.
A number of manatees have been spotted this year from Shem Creek to the Cooper River and in Charleston Harbor.
South Carolina DNR officials encourage anyone to report sightings and provide photographs (if possible) of live manatees online. Photographs of scars on manatees’ backs and tails are particularly useful because they can often be used to identify previously known individuals.
Manatees should never be approached by boat to obtain pictures.
They say collisions between boaters and manatees are more likely to occur in shallow waters, particularly around docks and at the edge of marshes where manatees feed.
Staying alert, practice safe boating, and maintain lower speeds to help reduce the risk of a collision. Boaters should also watch for manatee backs, tails, snouts and “footprints” – a series of round swirls on the surface caused by a swimming manatee’s tail.
Injured or dead manatees should be reported immediately to the SCDNR wildlife hotline at 1-800-922-5431. If a boat accidentally collides with a manatee, SCDNR biologists ask that the boater stand by and immediately contact SCDNR or the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. Doing so provides biologists the best chance to help the animal and gather valuable scientific data.
Tips for being manatee friendly in South Carolina:
Use caution when cranking your motor and navigating in shallow water, especially along the edge of a marsh. Manatees cannot dive away from boats in these areas.
Always heed “slow speed,“ “no wake” and manatee warning signs, particularly around docks.
Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare, making it easier to spot manatees below the surface.
Watch for large swirls in the water or “footprints” that may be caused by manatees diving away from the boat.
Dock owners should never feed manatees or give them fresh water. This could teach the animals to approach docks, putting them at greater risk of a boat strike, and it is illegal.
Never pursue, harass or play with manatees. It is bad for the manatees and is illegal.