Respect and Protect Sea Life as Independence Day Approaches
Have a fabulous holiday weekend and Fourth of July, but remember to keep your celebration safe for sea life.
Mote Marine Laboratory recommends that boaters follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and keep a close eye out to avoid striking dolphins, manatees and sea turtles. Mote also urges beachgoers to take special care to respect sea turtles and their nests on local beaches, which were hit hard this week by flooding and erosion due to Tropical Storm Debby.
Sea turtles and marine mammals such as manatees and dolphins are all protected under federal law.
Below are updates about how our local marine species are faring this summer, along with tips on how you can safely share our waters and beaches with the animals that call them home.
Stakes marking a sea turtle nest on Venice were buried during stormy weather this week, which damaged, destroyed or obscured many sea turtle nests on local beaches. Mote urges beachgoers to take special care to respect the remaining nests during the busy weekend and holiday (Photo Credit: Larry Evans).
Stormy weather during the past week damaged, destroyed or concealed a majority of sea turtle nests from Longboat Key south through Venice, according to preliminary reports from Mote Marine Laboratory scientists who continue to document the impacts of Tropical Storm Debby. Until Debby, nesting numbers were looking great, with more nests laid between April and June 2012 than during all of the 2011 nesting season. Sea turtle experts hope that the high number of nests laid so far this year on local beaches will help offset losses from the storm.
In addition, Mote's Stranding Investigations program has recovered several large sea turtles struck by boats this summer. You can help sea turtles by remaining vigilant while boating and by following these tips on the beach:
- If you encounter a nesting turtle, remain quiet and observe from a distance.
- Shield or turn off outdoor lights that are visible on the beach from May through October.
- Close drapes after dark and put beach furniture far back from the water.
- Fill in holes that may entrap hatchlings on their way to the water.
- Place trash in its proper place.
- Stay away from sea turtle nests, typically marked with annotated yellow stakes and tape, and seabird nesting zones that are bounded by ropes. Dogs are not allowed on Sarasota County beaches other than Brohard Paw Park in Venice, where they must be leashed or under voice control, according to county ordinances.
- Approach nesting turtles or hatchlings, make noise or shine lights at turtles.
- Use flashlights or fishing lamps on the beach.
- Encourage a turtle to move while nesting or pick up hatchlings that have emerged and are heading for the water.
- Use fireworks on the beach
Some of the oldest dolphins in Sarasota Bay swim with one of the youngest calves this month. During calving season, it's crucial to remain vigilant on the water to avoid striking dolphins, manatees and sea turtles.
Dolphins from left to right: Nicklo, (62 years old, grandmother of the calf in the photo), Blacktipdoubledip (59 years old), a calf from June 2012, and its mother, Eve (14 yrs old, daughter of Nicklo).Photo taken under Scientific Research Permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service. (Credit photo to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program)
During late spring and summer, the resident bottlenose dolphins of Sarasota Bay are busy giving birth to calves. As of today, June 29, at least eight calves have been born so far this year in the Bay – including the granddaughter of Nicklo, the Bay's oldest dolphin.
“We’re in the height of calving season, so it’s especially important to be vigilant while boating,” said Dr. Randall Wells, director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, a collaboration between the Chicago Zoological Society and Mote. “Historically, the period of heavy boat traffic around the Fourth of July has been when most boat strikes on dolphins have occurred, typically involving mothers and their naive calves.” Boats pass within 100 yards of each of the 160 year-round resident dolphins of Sarasota Bay once every six minutes on average during daylight hours – and about five percent of local dolphins have boat scars – according to Program scientists, who have closely monitored this population for 42 years. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population.
This is the time of year that manatees gather in groups as males try to mate with females that are ready to conceive. Often, as the female tries to evade her male suitors, large groups of up to a dozen or so manatees will end up in shallow waters along beaches.
So far this year, Mote scientists have documented several mating herds in Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, including areas off both Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Boaters and beachgoers should give mating herds a wide berth — both for your own safety and for that of the manatees. We have witnessed people get in the water and try to interact with these herds, but that can disrupt the animals’ normal mating behavior and it could also result in humans being injured.
Single mating herds can last several weeks and be highly active as male manatees bustle around a female. Individual manatees may also rest at the surface for several hours. This is typical behavior and not a cause for concern.
- Watch the manatees from at least 100 feet away. Coming any closer may disrupt the animals' natural mating behavior or put people into harm's way. Adult manatees typically weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds and people could be seriously injured.
- Try to push the animals back to deeper water. Animals such as manatees or dolphins can be injured when people try to push them along the sandy shore. Given their size, manatees especially also pose a danger to people.
- Feed, water or harass manatees. Federal and state laws forbid "harassing" them – harassment includes offering them food or water.
- Litter. Please be careful with your trash and carry out everything you carried to the beach.
- Within Sarasota or Manatee county waters, if you see an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle, please call Mote's Stranding Investigations Program, a 24-hour response service, at 941-988-0212.
If you see an entangled, stranded or dead manatee anywhere in state waters or an entangled, stranded or dead dolphin, whale or sea turtle outside of Sarasota or Manatee counties please call the FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922), #FWC, *FWC on your cellular phone or use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.
|Condition Update: Edna the Bottlenose Dolphin
Mote continues to treat a female bottlenose dolphin nicknamed “Edna” that stranded June 6 on Longboat Key.
As of today, June 29, Edna remains in critical condition but is showing signs of improvement. She is responding well to treatment for multiple medical conditions, including pneumonia, parasites and gastritis.
"She’s looking a lot better, and while her condition could change at any time, we’re happy to see these positive signs," said Mote veterinarian Dr. Andy Stamper, who will give Edna a medical exam this weekend to evaluate her progress.
Edna continues to be monitored ‘round the clock by Mote staff and trained volunteers.
Edna continues to eat all the fish that she is offered, to swim on her own and to show increasing energy, along with some behaviors that she might show in the wild — such as being curious about objects in her pool. Edna has been given environmental enrichment devices, which are toys designed to stimulate her body and mind.
Mote’s Dolphin and Whale Hospital has treated 70 sick and injured dolphins and small whales since 1992. Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital has treated more than 400 sea turtles since 1995. All marine mammals and sea turtles are protected species, so helping each animal is critical. You can support these important efforts at www.mote.org/hospitalhelp.