Hilton Head Manatee Sightings, Safety Reminders for Boaters


With warming waters on Hilton Head Island, wildlife experts say boaters should keep an eye out for graceful giants: manatees.

The marine mammals can be up to 10 feet tall, weigh up to a ton, and typically travel to South Carolina in May and depart again in November when waters dip below 68 degrees, according to the Carolina Department of Natural Resources. from South. South Carolina is home to a small fraction of “sea cows” in the United States, with Florida having the largest population, the department said.

Recently, a manatee was spotted walking along Shelter Cove, riddled with light marks and scars.

Due to their pattern of eating seagrass, the mammals tend to spend time in shallow water, which gives them little time to get away from oncoming boats. Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to manatee conservation, reported that the majority of human-related manatee deaths occur when the mammals collide with a boat.

Manatees are also threatened by canal locks and control structures, swallowing trash and hooks, getting caught in crab traps and habitat loss, the club said. Helping to protect manatees means reducing and lightening the human footprint.

Federal and state laws make it illegal to hunt, capture, kill, play with, or harass any marine animal. This includes touching, feeding, or offering water to manatees.

tannerpix12518Manatee in the waters HHI_edited-1.jpg
Manatees call for the warm waters of the Gulf Coast, but sometimes venture as far north as the Carolinas. Special for The Bluffton Packet

SCDNR’s advice to boaters

  • Boaters should look for manatees before starting the boat’s engine and watch for large swirls in the water, or “footprints,” that could be caused by manatees diving away from the boat.
  • Follow the “slow speed”, “no wake” and manatee warning signs, especially around the docks. Be careful when navigating in shallow water and on the edge of swamps. Manatees cannot dive far from boats in these areas.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare. It also makes it easier to spot manatees below the surface.

Have you spotted a manatee? Here’s how to report it

The SCDNR lists sightings of manatees based on their location and the mammals’ body scars to identify them. The department’s website has an online form to fill out in case of a sighting. Larger video files can be sent to [email protected]

Report an injured or dead manatee

Injured or dead manatees should be reported immediately to the SCDNR Wildlife Hotline at 1-800-922-5431.

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Sarah Haselhorst, a St. Louis native, writes about weather issues along the South Carolina coast. Her work is produced with the financial support of a grant from the Energy Foundation. She graduated from the University of Missouri – Columbia, where she studied journalism and sociology. Previously, Sarah spent time reporting in Jackson, Mississippi; Cincinnati, Ohio; and middle Missouri.


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