By Jeff Dennis
The large and lumbering sea cow is becoming a more common sight during summertime in the Lowcountry waterways. Typically, the manatees can begin showing up when the water temps warm in late May, and SCDNR releases tips to the public on how to be manatee friendly. It was early August when a curious manatee swam up into Big Bay Creek an took up position under the docks at Edisto Water Sports and Tackle. This wasn’t the first year that a manatee has been attracted to the sound of running water underneath the minnow tank there.
Local kayak guide Sean Harrington was there to greet him.
“The weather had been hot that week, and we had plenty of kayak tours then, but we never saw the manatee except right under the dock,” said Harrington. “I think they know how to navigate these creeks without being seen, and that can hear the running water and are curious about it. I got my phone out and made a video of the manatee essentially parked under the dock, right at the surface of the water for all to see.
“It’s always such a great experience to see a manatee at Edisto.”
Lyndsay Young is the owner at Edisto Water Sports and Tackle (EWT). She said the most they have ever seen at one time was three manatees. Federal and state regulations outline that it is illegal to play with or harass manatees, which includes touching or feeding them.
“We know not to touch the manatees at the dock, and each encounter gives us a chance to raise awareness with visitors about having respect for our manatees. The manatees seem curious about activities we do every day, like washing down the boats after a day’s fishing, and we are always glad to see them.”
The manatee was protected as an endangered species for 44 years until March of 2017, when their status was changed to threatened, a result of their increasing numbers. Some of the greatest dangers to manatees is boat strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, and red tide blooms. Once in a South Carolina waterway, a manatee can migrate far up into a river system in its search for food. In 2016 a manatee with a satellite tagged was tracked in the Cooper River, swimming from Charleston up to Huger, over a long period of time.
A large number of tagged manatees spotted in local, Lowcountry waters are coming from Florida, where the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute has been tagging manatees to study their migration habits, according to officials with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
Manatees can be difficult to spot, and some officials with S.C. DNR say wearing polarized sunglasses is a benefit for looking into the water.
If a member of the public spots a manatee in S.C. they should report it to SCDNR, for tagging and migration counts.
An injured or dead manatee should be reported immediately to the SCDNR Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-922-5431.