Manatee research to support boat regulations?

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A two-year study indicates that manatees react to the sound of an approaching boat by accelerating and swimming to deeper water, according to a story in today’s Fort Myers News-Press.

Scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, Florida State University and the Florida Marine Research Institute found that manatees often begin to react when boats are from 165 to 80 feet away and that they react whether an approaching boat is moving at high or low speed, according to the story.

“The animals that responded, responded by swimming to the nearest deep water at high speed, even if it took them into the path of an oncoming boat,” said Randall Wells, director of Mote’s Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Research Center. “It appears they know how to do the right thing: Go to water that gets them below the boat.

“The issue is whether they can get there before the boat gets them. The conclusion is that, given enough time, they can get to safe water. The way to give them enough time is to slow boats down.”

But boating advocates say education, rather than regulation, is the key to manatee protection.

“It’s a good thing manatees are hearing boats approaching, but our thing is we don’t have to regulate speeds so manatees can hear boats coming,” said John Kinney, vice president of the boating rights group Standing Watch. “Boaters are able to do a better job of bringing boat-related mortality down through better education.”

The study’s findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Biological Conservation, the News-Press reported.

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