LAFAYETTE, La. (Claire Taylor, The Advertiser)- South Louisiana residents may be used to seeing signs warning of alligators and black bears in certain places, The Advertiser reported.
But “manatee area” signs popping up along coastal Acadiana waterways are taking some locals by surprise.
Shane K. Bernard posted on Facebook last week a photograph he took at the Avery Island Pier at Bayou Petit Anse in Iberia Parish. Someone else said he saw the same sign at the Patterson boat landing on Bayou Teche in St. Mary Parish.
Neither is a place you’d expect to spot a manatee. But it happens.
‘A lot of folks don’t know manatees come here’
Keri Lejeune, an endangered species biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, is installing the signs at boat launches in the vicinity of reported manatee sightings.
Several manatees were seen in the Avery Island area a few years ago, Lejeune said. Last year, a manatee was spotted at Morgan City’s Lake End Park, near the boat landing, munching on water hyacinths, she said, and manatees have been reported in Vermilion Parish, Calcasieu Lake and as far north as the Amite River near Denham Springs.
“A lot of folks don’t know manatees come here,” Lejeune said. “When we put signs up at launches, people are curious.”
Manatees, the large, slow-moving mammals sometimes called sea cows, are most often associated with Florida, where they spend the winter. When the weather turns warmer, though, some manatees head out along the Gulf coast.
“A lot of time they just kind of wander off by themselves,” Lejeune said. “They go along the Gulf coast, up into the Mobile River into Alabama, then to Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain.”
In July, a manatee was seen and captured on video near the Bonnet Carre Spillway south of Lake Pontchartrain, she said. A few days later, a manatee — maybe the same one — was spotted at the mouth of the Tangipahoa River where it meets Lake Pontchartrain.
An increase in manatee sightings outside Florida may be due in part to warming waters and the success of conservation efforts, according to Elizabeth Hieb, manager of the Manatee Sighting Network at Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama.
After decades listed as an endangered species, the manatee’s classification was changed in 2017 to threatened.
“It’s a great recognition that we’re making progress and the species is recovering,” Hieb said. “But the manatees don’t really know the difference. The threats that were there before the de-listing are still there.”
That’s why the signs are so important, to warn boaters of the possible presence of manatees, which can be injured by boat propellers. The scars on the backs of manatees caused by close encounters with boats are used to identify and track the mammals on their summer journeys.
“They move slowly,” Lejeune said, “but they can cover some ground.”
Click here to learn about what to do and don’t do if you see a manatee.
Report the sighting 24/7 by calling 1-866-493-5803.