2017-05-18 / Opinion

Six ways to get to know manatees, the ‘mermaids’ of the sea

EXPLORE SOUTHWEST FLORIDA


A new 3-D underwater manatee mural is underway at the “Ding” Darling refuge on Sanibel. 
COURTESY PHOTO A new 3-D underwater manatee mural is underway at the “Ding” Darling refuge on Sanibel. COURTESY PHOTO Spring starts the mating season for Florida manatees, the most cherished and loveable of our local marine creatures. The manatee mating ritual makes for a thrashing, roiling sight that wildlife lovers exclaim about.

As the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island began installation on a new local salute to manatees last week, the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau takes a look around the beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel to learn more about Sirenia. The manatee’s scientific name reflects lore suggesting that sailors’ mermaid (or siren) sightings were actually manatees. Comely and svelte they are not, but bewitching they can be.

¦ J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island, 472- 1100, fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling.

As part of a new, educational bathroom project at the refuge, the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge began installation last week on a manatee mural on the outside wall. Local artist Andrew Corke created a lifesize mother manatee from bicycle tires, which is now swimming along the wall. A baby manatee is expected anytime soon. Watch the project’s progress and visit the Marvelous Manatees exhibit inside the visitor and education center. It includes a real manatee skeleton and a number of hands-on learning activities. Head out on a paddleboard or in a kayak to see them live in Tarpon Bay.

¦ Ostego Bay Foundation’s Marine Science Center, Fort Myers Beach, 765-8101, ostegobay.org.

Among its exhibits and tanks educating visitors about all facets of local marine life, a manatee kiosk delves into the plight of the endangered creature. Its “Mission Manatee” documents the Estero Bay manatee population and records behavior, scarring and migration patterns.

¦ Calusa Nature Center & Planetarium, Fort Myers, 275-3435, calusanature.org.

Find a number of tools to learn about manatees, starting with the manatee skeleton hanging outside in the pavilion. Inside the nature center, a lifesize manatee model dangles and an interactive, informational touch-screen quiz presents 10 fun facts about manatees in an engaging fashion.

¦ Manatee Park, Fort Myers, 690- 5030, leeparks.org.

Although the cold months are the best times to spot manatees swimming into Yankee Canal to take advantage of the warm discharge waters from the power plant, Manatee Park educates visitors year-round about these docile, fleshy creatures. If you kayak out into the Orange River (rentals available weekend mornings), your chances of sighting manatees improve. They are known to skim beneath kayaks to score a back scratch, in fact.

¦ Manatee & Eco River Tours, Fort Myers, 693-1434, manateeandecorivertours.com.

The Orange River boasts the most populous herds of manatees in fresh water, and in the winter this operator takes you on a boat tour to see them in their natural habitat.

¦ Manatee Guides, Fort Myers Beach, 247-4955, manateeguides.com.

A certified Florida master naturalist leads wildlife-sighting kayaking tours from the launching point at New Pass south of Lovers Key and into Estero Bay, another hot spot for manatees as well as dolphins.

For more information, see www.FortMyersSanibel.com. ¦

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