Manatees spend most of their time hanging out in Florida, but warmer weather can bring them north to munch on the vegetation native to South Carolina.
Yet seeing a sea cow in Myrtle Beach is not a simple task. It could even be costly if you violate laws protecting manatees.
Almost all human contact with manatees is unlawful, including touching them or feeding them.
Manatee researcher Jim Valade said in an email that there are a lot of reasons why it’s a bad for the creatures to have humans giving them food. The creatures are more than capable of finding their own food, and feeding them can cause them to stick around in dangerous areas.
Monica Ross, who studies manatee movement, added that by interacting with them, you make them too comfortable around humans. She used the example of giving them water from a hose can mimic the water pumps on a boat, which could lead to a manatee getting too close to a boats engine.
“It is training them to do something harmful,” she said.
She emphasized to “be sure not to change the animal’s behavior,” adding that if you approach one and they start to flee, that you are harassing that animal.
Ross said the sea cows move to South Carolina because of the diverse array of local vegetation. And there are less boats here than in Florida where they call home.
While there are less boats in South Carolina, manatees still face dangers here. Ross said straws and plastic can affect them, just like with sea turtles.
Given how few manatees there are, they need to be protected. If you see one while you’re on a boat, Valade said to get away from the animal before accelerating.
The entire sea cow population is not large in numbers and moves slowly through the water, which is in part why these protections are needed.
Also the population size makes seeing one of them difficult, but knowing more about the creatures can help.
Each manatee has its own preferences and social patterns, which Ross said more humans should know about. The sea cows can also choose to go elsewhere, like Alabama or to stay in Florida.
They’re expected to travel along intracoastal waterways, in shallower water, Ross said. She said that the best place to get a photo of one is on a pier or a turned-off boat in calm, shallow waters. This will help to not harm the animal or scare it away.
If you do see a manatee, you can help scientists learn more about manatee movement by calling it in. Ross said you can tell the different animals based of their scar lines and that each manatee has its own preferences.
If you see one in the wild, keep a good distance and don’t litter. Manatees are temporary guests in South Carolina waters and what happens here can determine if they make it back to Florida.