Drone Footage Brings Hope to Florida’s Manatees

Almost 200 of Florida’s gentle giants spotted chilling with dolphins in Tampa Bay.

Feb 26, 2021
Drone Footage Brings Hope to Florida’s Manatees | Almost 200 of Florida’s gentle giants spotted chilling with dolphins in Tampa Bay.

A drone recently captured an extraordinary event in the coastal waters of St. Petersburg, on Florida’s gulf coast; a mid-February gathering of almost two hundred threatened Florida manatees basking in the company of playful dolphins.

Our video features this rare footage of these endearing aquatic creatures mingling with leaping dolphins in the area’s shallow waters. This is a remarkable sighting. It is unusual to see local manatees together in such high numbers. Groups of these slow-moving creatures don’t usually exceed six animals, and manatee populations today are far short of historical highs.

Despite the remaining threats to these creatures, “[It’s great] to see that many manatees from a drone, and it’s always cool to see dolphins swimming through them… If we are successful in rebuilding manatee populations to where they should be, we could see this more often. It’s a glimpse of what we could do with the oceans if we work really hard to restore them to what they used to be,”Mike Heithaus, dean of Florida International University College of Arts, Sciences and Education and professor of the university’s department of biological sciences told the Guardian newspaper.  

Manatees are large marine mammals living in rivers, seas and oceans. They roam the coastal waters of Florida from April through October, but head to warmer freshwater like Florida springs when temperatures drop. They have egg-shaped heads, flippers, a flat tail, and can grow to thirteen feet in length. They are also known as sea cows due to their large size, and peaceful nature. But these herbivores are actually more closely related to elephants!

Manatees are Florida’s official state marine mammal. But stocks of the Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee found in the southern and eastern United States, fell to just a few hundred in the 1970s. Populations have rebounded since to an estimated 7,500 manatees in the wild in the southeastern US. But all three global species of manatees are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The main threats to manatees are all human-related ones. For Florida Manatees, who are found near densely populated coastal areas, the greatest danger is watercraft collisions. These creatures move slowly, tending to feed on seagrass in shallow waters where they also rest. This gives them little time to escape from fast-moving boats and jet skis.

Loss of habitat is another serious hazard for the Sunshine State’s manatee populations. Widespread coastal development near estuaries and coastal wetlands often leads to the loss of seagrass beds that are crucial for feeding, as well as the warm-water springs that these cold-intolerant mammals need. Entanglement in fishing gear is another danger.

In 2017, due to the growth of local manatee populations, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service felt confident enough to reclassify the status of the West Indian manatee to threatened instead of endangered.

But local organizations and dedicated conservation groups like the Save the Manatee Club, continue to work hard with the public and business to protect these mammals and their aquatic habitat. They strive to raise awareness and implement regulations. Their shared objective is the eventual recovery of these cherished creatures, and their aquatic ecosystems.

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DAPHNE KASRIEL ALEXANDER, EDITOR IN CHIEF
Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.