One of the advantages of our exceptionally hot weather is that it draws a lovable but hard-to-spot sea creature to Lowcountry waters.
Manatees have been seen near marinas on Hilton Head Island's Skull Creek and Broad Creek this month and have been spotted sporadically throughout Beaufort County's waters for decades. Sightings have become more frequent during the past 10 years.
Some manatees, also known as sea cows, make an annual summer visit to the Lowcountry, arriving in spring when water temperatures reach the upper 60s and leaving by October. Manatee sightings are much more rare here than in Florida, but their presence along the S.C. coast is enough to lead state environmental officials to issue warnings to boaters to be mindful of the docile, curious mammal's safety.
The S.C. Department of Natural Resources hopes boaters will be on the lookout to avoid collisions with the endangered animals. DNR also warns against squirting the manatees with fresh water. The manatees like it, but it causes them to become too comfortable getting close to docks and boats, where they could get hit by propellers. Feeding or watering them is illegal.
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, according to the DNR website.
Between 1850 and 2004, there have been 1,170 sightings of manatees in South Carolina waters, says Brett Witt, DNR spokesman. The numbers of sightings vary each year, but he estimates 50 to 75 sea cows are spotted each year in the state's coastal waters.
Though a rare occurrence, spotting a manatee leaves an impression on its human observers.
"It's pretty exciting," said Mike Overton, CEO of Outside Hilton Head, who saw a manatee earlier this month in Broad Creek at Shelter Cove Harbour. They move slowly, so humans can get a good long look at them when they appear, he said.
"They're wonderful creatures," said Granville Ogilvie, harbormaster at Skull Creek Marina. Ogilvie saw a mother and her calf swim by the docks a couple weeks ago, he said.
But their appearances are unpredictable.
Ogilvie says he's often asked when and where you can spot a manatee in local waters.
"When they're here," he says. "It's not a zoo, and they don't have a schedule."