North Florida Field Office
Joint Agency News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FWS Release #: 004-06
Release Date: June 16, 2006
Chuck Underwood, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – 904-731-3332
Willie Puz, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – 850-488-1638
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) are looking to the public for help in conserving the Florida manatee population. The agencies are encouraging boaters to report accidental watercraft collisions with Florida manatees through a new joint effort.
Agency officials want people to understand that conserving manatees is the goal and boaters can help by voluntarily reporting incidents involving these animals. Anyone who strikes a manatee or observes a manatee being hit by a boat should call the Commission’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 1-888-404-3922. Boaters should be prepared to provide the incident location, weather conditions, boat specifications, and other relevant information.
“We want everyone to know that people who are operating their boat lawfully and responsibly should not be afraid to report accidental collisions with manatees,” said Ken Haddad, Executive Director of the Commission. “Management decisions are made based on sound science. The public can play a vital role in helping collect this data and, in turn, have a direct role in future manatee conservation efforts.”
While the agencies continue to try to minimize the number of manatee deaths and injuries, the goal and hope of this effort is that the self-reporting of manatee/boat collisions will actually increase, with two significant benefits. Ongoing local, state, and federal law enforcement activities will continue through the joint task forces.
The goals of this self-reporting are two fold.
First, a quick response may increase the chance of an injured animal being rescued, treated successfully, and ultimately returned to their natural habitat.
Second, scientists can gain an improved understanding of other boat strikes. If scientists can match the marks on the animal with the type of boat or propeller causing the wound, it will provide a better understanding of what kinds of boats, motors, or other circumstances cause the most problems for manatees. In turn, this may allow adjustments in management practices to prevent such strikes from occurring or even lead to future design changes in boats. Presently, there are only a handful of cases where the vessel that struck a manatee is actually known.
The agencies credit Bill Allbright as the driving force for this new initiative. Allbright is the government affairs chairman of the Florida Council of Yacht Clubs and also volunteers at the FWC’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute lab in St Petersburg where scientists perform necropsies on dead manatees to determine the cause of death.
“No one operating a boat responsibly and legally intentionally runs over a manatee, but I think people don’t report it because they fear they will get in trouble,” Allbright said.
“Bill has been pushing us for awhile, and rightfully so,” said Sam Hamilton, Regional Director for the Service. “People who disregard the law must be held accountable, but we understand that people operating their boats responsibly and legally may accidentally hit manatees. Under such circumstances, we treat accidents as what they are – accidents. We want boaters to report them to us so we have a chance to rescue the animal and a chance to learn more about how to protect the species.”
Both agencies strongly encourage boaters to know the rules of the road, boat safely and responsibly, watch out for manatees, and obey all federal, state, and local laws and regulations including those specifically established for manatee protection or boater safety. Collisions with boats are a significant source of injury and mortality in manatees. Minimizing these injuries is an important factor in recovery of the species.
For more information on the agencies’ manatee programs, go to:
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: http://www.myfwc.com
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida
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Last modified June 16, 2006
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