Most people don't realize touching a manatee is harassment. It can scare them away from their natural habitat or even do the opposite by drawing them toward boats and sharp objects.
Heather Cole and Amanda Miaczymski are vacationing along the St. Marks River this week. All the way from Pennsylvania, now they're getting a close look at a manatee for the first time.
"I’ve snapped off at least three rolls of film in like the last hour," said Cole.
That's what tourists and natives should do. Jumping in to touch or ride one is breaking the law.
"If people interact with them it interferes with cows nursing their young. The animals are under stress. They really need to conserve their energy, and people chasing them around is gonna take a toll on survival if we don't put a stop to it," said Henry Cabbage, spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Some sea cows will swim and seek solitude in waters that are too cold. Others will get used to swimming near boats.
"We see propeller wounds on a lot of the larger manatees, and some of the smaller ones," said Cabbage.
Although it’s enticing to get in the water and actually touch the manatees, the wildlife officers say the best interaction with the mammals is to just watch and observe them.
Miaczymski was surprised to hear touching, patting and riding manatees is illegal.
"I did not know that. I thought you could go swimming with them like you can do with the dolphins."
Manatees are endangered, and harassing them can really harm them. If they do swim to colder waters, or if they get crushed by boats, they can die.
Wildlife officers are on patrol in their boats. If caught, you could be fined $500 and you could spend up to 60 days in jail.
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