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Blog Tags: Florida

Thursday Trivia: West Indian Manatee

manatee

A manatee takes a rest from its exhausting feeding routine. © Oceana/Carlos Minguell

When Christopher Columbus first saw a West Indian manatee, he thought it was a mermaid – you can decide for yourself if the comparison is apt.

November is Manatee Awareness Month in Florida, so this week we’re checking in with the charismatic sea cows – and if you tweet us what makes the manatee’s teeth unique among mammals, you could win a prize.

The West Indian manatee is found in two distinct populations in the Caribbean and Florida, where they live in warm, shallow water, migrating somewhat with the seasons. They are tolerant of a range of saltiness, although they need occasional access to freshwater to keep from being dehydrated.

Manatees are about 10 feet long and can live to be about 50 years old. Despite their massive size, they are surprisingly agile, even though they swim and steer with just their tails. They are usually pale grey, although calves are darker. Their skin is constantly flaking off, likely to reduce algae. For the most part, manatees live alone, spending about six to eight hours a day eating.

Eating takes up so much of their day because their diet consists primarily of seagrass, which has a very low caloric value. Although manatees have developed a low metabolic rate to help conserve energy, they still need to eat a lot of seagrass – about 10-15% of their body weight each day (!) In addition to seagrass, manatees use their flippers to dig up roots, and will occasionally eat invertebrates or fish.


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Breaking: FL Protects Tiger and Hammerhead Sharks

hammerhead shark

Hammerhead shark. [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

I’m sitting in the meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission down in Key Largo, and I have great news: A decision has just been made to protect tiger sharks and three species of hammerhead sharks in state waters.

The new rules go into effect January 1, 2012 and prohibit the commercial harvest, possession and landing of tiger and hammerhead sharks (scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads) in state waters -- that’s three miles off the Atlantic coast and nine miles off the Gulf coast. Recreational fisheries for these species could continue, as long as they’re “catch and release."

We really like this new regulation. Tiger sharks have declined drastically in recent decades -- up to 97% in US Atlantic waters. And these three species of hammerhead sharks have declined about 70% in northwest Atlantic waters. Sharks are often caught for their fins that eventually end up in shark fin soup.

There are some other shark species that still would benefit from this same protection in Florida’s waters, but for now we’re pleased to see the state make positive changes to these shark fisheries. Florida’s waters provide essential habitat for these species; their babies (called pups) use these waters as nursery grounds.

Protected sharks = more shark babies = healthier oceans. Thanks to everyone who helped with this huge victory for sharks!


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55 Baby Hammerheads Killed for Sport

© Mote Marine

Yesterday’s esquire.com mako shark recipes were pretty outrageous, but it reminded us of another shocking shark story that's worth remembering this shark week. A few years ago, a 1,280-pound pregnant hammerhead shark was killed in Florida in the name of “sport fishing”, with 55 mini-hammerheads still in her womb.

This record-breaking hammerhead was caught off Boca Grande, FL, after struggling for hours. Female sharks are often caught as record-breakers in sport fisheries; they are often so heavy precisely because they are pregnant! This not-so-little lady was 40 or 50 years old and due to give birth any day, with the largest number of shark pups scientists have ever seen.

Killing sharks to win a spot in a record book is unfortunate, as these slow growers can’t sustain their populations against high fishing pressure. We like catch and release models much better, like the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge in Florida, in which scientists tag all sharks caught and fishermen release them back into the water.  

In good news for these sharks in Florida, a proposal is moving forward to prohibit killing hammerheads (and tiger sharks) in state waters. Staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will present this recommendation to the state wildlife commission next month.

Kudos to our devoted Florida Wavemakers who helped make this key step a reality! We’ll keep you posted on the outcomes; with a victory, any record-breaking pregnant sharks and her babies will remain in the oceans where they belong, and not on a lab table.

Take action to protect hammmerheads if you haven't already!


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Expedition Slideshow: Manatees and More

Check out these gorgeous expedition photos from the Crystal and Rainbow rivers on the Northwest coast of Florida. Photographer Carlos Minguell has received many awards for his underwater photography, and it’s easy to see why:

Stay tuned for more as our Gulf of Mexico expedition draws to a close this week.

 


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Diving in Tarpon Springs, FL

A brief update from the boat by Elizabeth Wilson, and some gorgeous photographs:

Sept. 21:

Today the dive team went to Tarpon Springs, which is just a little north of St. Petersburg, FL to dive. Tarpon Springs is named for the tarpons (a species of fish) which can often be seen leaping out of the water in this area.  The name fits -- we’ve seen many tarpons leaping out of the water from the Latitude in recent days.

While visibility on the dive wasn’t ideal, the dive team was still able to get some amazing pictures: 

 


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Oceana Divers Explore Artificial Reef

Caesar grunts and amberjacks near Port St. Joe, Florida. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Here’s Dustin’s latest dispatch from the boat, along with some beautiful photos from a dive near Port St. Joe, Florida:

Under typical weather conditions, it should have taken the divers only an hour and a half to reach the 3-5’s area on the 42-foot Oceana Longitude this morning. But because of rough seas, the divers decided to divert from the course when they realized that it would take nearly twice as long to reach the location. Instead, they visited Marquardt’s Barge, approximately 10 miles from where the Oceana Latitude is anchored in Port St. Joe.


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Leaving Mobile Bay

After making a quick stop in Mobile, AL, the boat is now on its way to Florida, as Dustin reports:

On Wednesday morning the Oceana Latitude pulled up anchor and started to make its way to Port St. Joe, Fla.

As we left Mobile Bay, we passed Dauphin Island, home of the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. Oceana has participated in this conservation-minded fishing tournament in the past, which typically attracts more than 100,000 spectators and more than 3,200 fishermen.

Unfortunately, like so many other summer activities in this part of the Gulf, the Rodeo was canceled this year after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.


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Where Are They Now?: Lynora Indiviglio

This is the second in a series of posts about the 2009 Ocean Heroes finalists.

Today we’re catching up with Lynora Indiviglio, who was a finalist last year because she founded the PalmBeach HammerHeads, South Florida's largest environmental dive club. For the past 8 years, the group has cleaned the areas reefs the last Sunday of every month. Lynora is also a member of the Palm Beach County Reef Research Team, which documents the health of Palm Beach County's Artificial Reef Program.

Sounds like she and the HammerHeads are busy as ever. She sent us this e-mail:

“The HammerHeads are still working hard at their cleanups and spreading the important news about the ocean and its importance to us all.

I met with Karen the 'Red Tide Coordinator' this past week as myself and some other HammerHeads have been collecting samples for her. We also had a representative from South Florida Water Management District come talk to us about the laboratory they have in the Everglades and what they're doing out there. She did a presentation at our March meeting and we had a full house.”

Inspired by Lynora's commitment to ocean conservation? Nominate an ocean hero you know, young or old.


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A Bad Year for Loggerheads

loggerhead sea turtle

A female loggerhead on Bald Head Island, NC. © Oceana/Jeff Janowski

During my turtle trip to Bald Head Island, NC in June, the loggerhead nesting numbers were looking dismal, but it was fairly early in the season, so the folks at the Island Conservancy were hoping things would turn around. It turns out Bald Head had its worst nesting year on record since 1983.

This year's loggerhead nesting numbers are in, and yesterday Oceana announced that this year was one of the worst on record from North Carolina to Florida. In Florida, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of loggerhead nesting in the United States, nesting decreased by more than 15 percent in 2009.


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