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Manatee Sightings Rise Along South Carolina Coast

gray sea cow under water

During the summer months of July and August, South Carolina’s coast becomes a temporary home for a special visitor: the manatee. These gentle giants, also known as sea cows, are typically found in Florida’s warm waters, but their migration patterns often bring them northward along the Atlantic coast.

Manatee Migration Patterns

Manatees are primarily found in the warm, shallow waters of Florida, where they reside year-round. However, as water temperatures rise in the summer, they begin to migrate northward in search of new feeding grounds and cooler waters. This migration often leads them to coastal waters in Georgia, South Carolina, and occasionally even further north.

Why Do Manatees Migrate?

  1. Temperature Changes: Manatees are sensitive to cold water and seek warmer temperatures. The summer heat in Florida’s waters can become too warm, prompting them to move to cooler regions.
  2. Food Sources: Manatees primarily feed on seagrass and other aquatic vegetation. The search for abundant food sources can lead them to new areas along the coast.
  3. Exploratory Behavior: Some manatees, especially juveniles, exhibit exploratory behavior, traveling long distances from their usual habitats.

Frequency of Manatee Sightings in South Carolina

Manatee sightings in South Carolina are not uncommon during July and August. These months mark the peak of their northern migration. Coastal areas, particularly in the Lowcountry regions such as Hilton Head Island, Charleston, and Beaufort, report increased manatee activity. The frequency of sightings can vary year to year based on environmental conditions, but these areas often serve as popular stopover points for migrating manatees.

Notable Sightings

  1. Hilton Head Island: Known for its extensive waterways and lush seagrass beds, Hilton Head Island frequently reports manatee sightings. Boaters and kayakers often spot them near marinas and inlets.
  2. Charleston Harbor: The harbor’s extensive estuarine environment provides an ideal habitat for manatees seeking food and shelter.
  3. Beaufort River: This river is another hotspot where manatees are often seen feeding and resting.

What to Do If You See a Manatee

Encountering a manatee can be an exciting experience, but it’s essential to follow guidelines to ensure their safety and well-being. Here are steps to take if you see a manatee along South Carolina’s coast:

Observing Manatees

  1. Keep Your Distance: Maintain a safe distance of at least 50 feet. Avoid approaching, touching, or feeding the manatee.
  2. Slow Down: If you are boating, reduce your speed to avoid potential collisions. Manatees are slow-moving and may not easily evade fast-moving vessels.
  3. Avoid Harassment: Do not chase, poke, or try to ride the manatee. Any form of harassment can cause stress and harm to these gentle creatures.

Reporting Sightings

  1. Contact Authorities: If you spot a manatee, report the sighting to local wildlife authorities. In South Carolina, you can contact the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
  2. Provide Details: When reporting, include the location, time, and any distinguishing features or behaviors observed. This information helps track manatee movements and ensures their protection.

Emergency Situations

  1. Injured or Distressed Manatees: If you observe a manatee that appears injured or in distress, contact SCDNR immediately. Provide as much detail as possible to assist rescue efforts.
  2. Entanglement: Manatees can become entangled in fishing lines or debris. Do not attempt to free the manatee yourself. Report the situation to authorities for professional assistance.

The presence of manatees along South Carolina’s coast during July and August is a testament to the region’s rich marine biodiversity. Understanding their migration patterns and knowing how to responsibly observe and report sightings can help protect these gentle giants.

Whether you’re a local resident or a visitor, encountering a manatee is a unique experience that underscores the importance of preserving our natural habitats and the species that inhabit them.

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