Are you worried about how manatees will survive this hurricane? Us, too!

click to enlarge In case you don't have enough to worry about: baby manatees might become separated from their moms during a hurricane. - psyberartist via Flickr/CC
psyberartist via Flickr/CC
In case you don't have enough to worry about: baby manatees might become separated from their moms during a hurricane.

Who couldn't use some reassuring news: In all likelihood, manatees will be just fine during Hurricane Irma.

"They weather the storms very well," says A. Quinton White, Jr., executive director of the Marine Science Research Institute at Jacksonville University

Those humongous, gentle, vegetarian marine mammals sense storms coming and will tuck themselves away into protected waters for the duration. Being able to stay submerged for long periods of time will come in handy if conditions get rough at the surface.

Even their food supply should be all right; in fact, manatees' preferred snack of seagrass might benefit from a hurricane's fresh water infusion, White says. (Always looking for a silver lining here!)

"I'm not worried about manatees in hurricanes," says White. "They take care of themselves and have for thousands and thousands of years. Marine mammals tend to be OK in storms." 

Unfortunately, things get a little hairier once the hurricane's blown through. Luckily, you can help in some important ways.

Manatees — as well, of course, as other animals — face a number of post-storm hazards. For example, there will be a lot of dangerous debris in the water — things like fishing lines, tires, and whatever else is out floating around — as well as those contaminants environmentalists are always warning about.

So please, if you need one more incentive to put away all your loose belongings and clean up all your trash — and perhaps engage in a little environmental lobbying — do it for the manatees. 

By the way — this all goes for dolphins, too. The evidence shows dolphins by and large survive ably through the hurricanes themselves. The ensuing detritus will pose a real risk.

"The best we can do is to prevent our garbage and pollutants from getting into their water," says Randall Wells, director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.


Back, now, to manatees: Patrick Rose, executive director of the Save the Manatee Club, points out that because of flooding, manatees will likely wind up in normally-discontinuous bodies of water like golf course ponds and drainage ditches, and maybe your backyard. They'll get stranded there once the water levels recede.

After the storm, be on the lookout for manatees in places where they ought not to be. Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife manatee hotline (888-404-3922, or email [email protected]) so they can get escorted back where they belong.

The hurricane could also lead to significant changes in the manatees' habitat, causing erosion and changes in salinity. And (this one is really heartbreaking) manatee calves may get separated from their moms due to the storm.

Sadly, these latter things can't be basically fixed by us not being slobs, and by keeping our eyes peeled for stray manatees.

The best case here is that Irma decides not to visit Florida after all.

"We just have to hope," says Rose.

Arin Greenwood is an animal writer, novelist, and former lawyer living in St Pete. Her third book, Your Robot Dog Will Die, is due to be published by Soho Teen in April, 2018. She's also written two other books in which dogs appear but no robots are in any danger.