Although seeing manatees pudgy faces in marinas across Beaufort County can be exciting, it’s not always a good sign this time of year.
The endangered Florida manatee, or sea cow, has an estimated population of 6,000 animals. Most manatees live in Florida’s warm waters, but as ocean temperatures warm up in the summer, some make the trek up north to visit the South Carolina coast.
By November, most of the visiting manatees usually have headed south for the winter, according to DNR. This year, however, Beaufort County residents have continued to spot the fascinating mammals throughout the month.
“Manatees movements are dependent on water temperature,” David Lucas, S.C. Department of Natural Resources, said via email. “They tend to move south to Florida beginning in the fall months — that might happen earlier or later in a given year, depending on coastal water temperatures.”
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In water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, the sub-tropical mammals risk succumbing to cold stress-related illnesses, according to DNR.
Friday’s water temperature was 67 degrees in Charleston and 71 degrees at the Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in Georgia, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As water temperatures off the coast of South Carolina continue to drop, DNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will investigate any reports of manatees in South Carolina waters.
In order to help the agencies track and monitor the manatees remaining in South Carolina, they ask boaters and anglers to report any you see while out on the water.
Earlier in 2017, the Florida manatee was moved off the “endangered” list under the Endangered Species Act and is now classified as “threatened.”
DNR officials urge you to look, but don’t touch, when you encounter the creatures.
Hilton Head Island is one of the two problem areas, along with Charleston, where manatees are chronically fed and watered, SCDNR veterinarian Al Segars said previously. Doing so encourages the manatees to hang around in marinas, where they might get struck by boats — the leading cause of death for manatees.
To report a manatee spotting visit http://www.dnr.sc.gov/manatee/sight.htm