The City Magazine Since 1975

On the Town: Company’s in Town

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Manatees usually head for Florida come fall, but the SeaWorld Orlando Rescue Team had to help save a stranded male (left) from the Cooper River last December; Photographs courtesy of (left) SeaWorld Orlando & by (right) Patrick M. Rose, Save the Manatee Club

July 20, 2016

Company’s in Town
The tourists of our warm-weather waters are back; do you know what to do—and not do—if you spy a manatee?

written by Stratton Lawrence

The days of sailors mistaking manatees for mermaids (the root of their Latin order name, Sirenia) are behind us, but spotting a sea cow is still a joyful experience for modern boaters. When Charleston’s water temps hit the high 60s in late May, West Indian manatees begin to arrive on their annual migration north from Florida, often making their way far up the Cooper River in search of spartina grass, lily pads, and other plants they devour with voracious appetites. In 2015 alone, 74 sightings across the state were reported to the SC Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Though manatee populations have rebounded—enough so that in January, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed down-listing the species from “endangered” to “threatened”—it is critical that folks don’t let their excitement over a sighting lead to harmful behaviors. It’s actually illegal to give these gentle giants food or water, as well as to pursue or touch them.

“Feeding or watering (running a hose off a dock) trains manatees to be in the most dangerous places in their world—docks and marinas,” says DNR veterinarian Al Segars, noting that boat propellers can disfigure or kill the creatures. “The worst thing you can do for a wild animal is let it lose its fear of humans.”

Charlestonians, this is one time you’ll have to resist offering up that famed hospitality.

To find quick tips on helping to protect these visiting sea creatures and to watch SeaWorld’s video about their Cooper River manatee rescue, click here.