24 OctFlorida, Marine Mammals, Nature Photography, West Indian Manatee | 2 Comments
I received an e-mail from my web site today and I thought that it was really worth talking about. A woman downloaded one of my manatee screen savers and loaded it into her computer. She said that it started to play but once it reached a photo of a person scratching a manatee, it upset her. She couldn’t figure out how to take any of those type of photos out of the screen saver (you can’t), so she uninstalled it. That is her right, of course.
The following are her comments: “I downloaded your screen saver and loved the first half, but then you got into the diver petting, etc. and I must assume that you haven’t seen the PADI Dive and Save The Manatee’s Club brochure on manatees, “If you love us, please don’t touch us.” Hopefully that will become the rule for the entire state. I don’t know how to eliminate those bad things from the set so I have deleted it!”
I went to the Save The Manatee web site and read their position of swimming with the West Indian Manatees in Crystal River. They have adopted a “no hands” policy for swimming with manatees. They have other items that they would like incorporated such as disallowing the use of fins, mandating the wearing of floatation devices and not allowing anyone within ten feet of a manatee. They state that this will not affect the commercial aspect of operations that are in the business of manatee tours.
I think that they most important thing that I got out of their opinion page was that harassing manatees has to stop. I have seen a lot of it in the times that I have been in Crystal River. I think that there is a great distinction between scratching a manatee that approaches you and the kind of harassment that they show in their “award winning video.” The video accurately depicts people harassing manatees and I am all for that type of harassment to stop. I believe that there are better ways to stop the harassment than adopting a “no hands – no fins – floatation devices and ten foot boundaries.”
I believe that better education on the do’s and don’ts of interacting with manatees is essential. This can be done by the tour operators that make their living bringing people to manatees and through organizations like Save The Manatee and from web sites of people who visit and love manatees.
My wife and I have been traveling to Crystal River to swim with manatees for more than ten years and there is no doubt in my mind that manatees like to interact with humans. Not every manatee wants to interact all the time and it is very evident when they are not interested in an interaction. They just
don’t come to you. When they do, they usually want to be scratched. You can tell how much they like it when they roll over on their backs and allow you to scratch their stomachs. No one makes them do that. They do it because they like it. Think how unprotected they are when they are on their backs. I have seen manatees drive people crazy until they got scratched. I watched a juvenile swim between my wife’s legs while she was standing in shallow water. When my wife didn’t react, the manatee started rubbing itself against her legs. It didn’t stop until she paid attention to the manatee.
On one of our first trips to Crystal River, my wife was interacting with a manatee and started to get tired. She took her hand off the manatee’s stomach and the manatee used its flipper to bring her hand back. What does that mean? I think that the manatee wanted the interaction as much as my wife did!
So what constitutes harassment? There are a lot of things and most of them occur when people are stupid or don’t care. I have seen people trying to ride a manatee. I have seen them grab manatees and try to keep them on the surface or not let them swim away. I have seen them dive down and harass manatees resting on the bottom. The manatees are on the bottom because they don’t want to be bothered. I think that sometimes harassment happens because people get excited. It is not every day that you can be in the water with an animal that can weigh in at 2000 pounds.
So how can we help to stop this? I think that we all need to get involved and stop people when they are doing something that they are not supposed to do. We can try and educate others as to the proper methods of interacting with manatees. Granted, there are going to be people who aren’t going to listen but those same people are not going to listen to any other methods of discouragement.
I see a lot of groups of children that come to the Crystal River. I am not sure if they are from schools but if they are they should be taught by their teachers about proper manatee etiquette. I also believe that tour operators that rely on bringing people to see and interact with manatees have a responsibility to ensure that their paying clients act responsibly. If they don’t, it is the tour operator’s livelihood that is at stake.
As an underwater photographer, I have a vested interest in manatees. I would love to continue to photograph them and I would love for everyone to experience the beauty of the West Indian manatee. I want the opportunity to interact with manatees to stay as it is. I don’t want the action of a few misguided individuals to force the government to dictate policy to all of us. I know that it is hard to step in and tell people that they are doing something wrong but we must. If you are a parent, it is your responsibility to educate your children about proper etiquette with manatees. If you don’t, how are their children going to be able to experience what we have?
I guess that my point in this blog is to see how you feel about this?
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