It's been a tough year for the manatee. The adorable, beloved sea cow is truly the mascot of Florida—but more manatees have died in 2021 than any other year, and they're still listed as threatened at the federal and state level by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Since 1974, more than 41 percent of manatee deaths have been identified as human-related, and 34 percent due to watercraft collisions, the largest known cause of manatee deaths. Many manatees suffer deep cuts from these accidents, which heal as grayish-white scars, or will have trouble floating afterward. Some have even become malnourished because of the loss of seagrass on the east coast of Florida.
In an effort to protect these gentle giants, Florida singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffet and former Gov. Bob Graham formed the Save the Manatee Club in 1981. The nonprofit still operates today and offers educational online resources for all ages. It's aim is to increase public awareness of manatee habitat health and reduction of their harm.
During the month of November, manatees tend to migrate to shallow, warmer waters for the winter right here on the Gulf Coast. That's why Graham and Buffet declared November Manatee Awareness Month. And there are several ways you can celebrate—and help.
Each week, the Save the Manatee Club will be sharing activities, games, quizzes and ways the public can get involved via social media and at its website. The club also has videos and live webcams of manatees swimming in the gulf.
Members of the club will also learn how to recognize sick, injured or orphaned manatees so they can report them to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
"Boaters, especially, can be a tremendous help in reporting manatees in distress," says Save the Manatee Club's aquatic biologist and executive director Patrick Rose. "Being aware of their presence on the water and learning how to call when something is wrong can help save a manatee's life."
Another way to celebrate the sea cow this month is by joining The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature's Bishop Foster Friends program. It's a monthly giving program to support the ongoing care for manatees living in the museum's Stage 2 rehabilitation habitat. Mote Marine Lab's Manatee Research Program also conducts year-round studies on manatees and advises on research and conservation projects for the gentle giants.
“This year has been especially tough for manatees in Florida," says the Bishop Museum's CEO Hillary Spencer. "More manatees have died in 2021 than in any other year in the state’s history — making rescue and rehabilitation programs like ours more important than ever.”