Some unusual drone footage has emerged from Florida as a veritable swarm of around 170 manatees was spotted having gathered in the waters of Riviera Beach. As if this rare sight wasn’t spectacular enough, they were also joined by a small pod of dolphins putting on quite the show as they leaped and dove among the manatees. The footage is unusual as manatees are rarely seen in such numbers, especially not in the presence of dolphins as they spend a lot of time in fresh water.
There are thought to be around 7,500 manatees left in the wild according to estimates from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They have caused a ruckus on a few occasions by gathering for the aquatic equivalent of a swingers’ party, meeting in “mating balls” that have seen polyamorous gangs of manatees blocking boat traffic. Interactions between manatees are therefore not unheard of, but the rarity of manatee festivals like this one could be explained by their low population numbers leaving so few animals in the wild to attend (though somersaulting dolphins would make a great headliner).
“There’s no particular reason they wouldn’t interact, but manatee numbers are down and that makes it less likely,” said Mike Heithaus, a biological sciences professor at Florida International University College of Arts, Sciences and Education, in an interview with the Guardian. “The more unique part is to see that many manatees from a drone and it’s always cool to see dolphins swimming through them.”
The basking manatees and their acrobatic companions were caught on drone camera by outdoor adventure company See Through Canoe. While rare in the current age, where manatees face threats from vessel strikes and disease, the footage could be a glimpse of what’s to come if conservation efforts are successful in implementing environmentally responsible practices that could increase the number of manatees in the wild.
“If we are successful in rebuilding manatee populations to where they should be, we could see this more often,” continued Heithaus. “It’s a glimpse of what we could do with the oceans if we work really hard to restore them to what they used to be. The threats are still there, and the population isn’t where it used to be.”
A disappointing news story from earlier this year detailed the potential fine for the guilty person(s) responsible for etching “TRUMP” onto the back of an endangered Florida manatee. Florida manatees are afforded special protection owing to their vulnerability as both a threatened and slow-moving (easy to access) animal. These gentle giants are protected under the 1972 US Marine Mammal Protection Act, the 1973 US Endangered Species Act, and the 1978 Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, and as such interfering with them carries a heavy penalty of up to $100,000.