“We’re still waiting,” Jim Sweat said. He and Penny Tomasino were standing at the end of their
homeowner’s community association dock watching the injured manatee struggling to swim in the Intracoastal Waterway. Their friend Holly waded into the water over barnacle encrusted rocks without shoes to signal boaters away and hopefully keep the manatee inside a sheltered bay away from the busy boat launching ramp lagoon.
Sergeant Yvonne Cacioli responded in a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s patrol boat. Their emergency lights signaled boaters away. This gave the injured manatee a chance to swim past the entrance to the Boynton boat launching ramps and head south in the Intracoastal. Florida’s Wildlife Commission sent a responder that boarded the Sheriff’s Marine Unit vessel to examine the injured manatee. The FWC made a decision not to take further action.
“What’s that over there? It looks like a manatee but there seem to be fish biting at it,” Captain Craig Smart said earlier that morning in Lantana. He saw what appeared to be a manatee with a bubble on its back but couldn’t quite make it out. This was likely the injured manatee that earlier had found its way into the boat slip area in Lantana behind the Old Key Lime House Restaurant.
Any open wound in the ocean will be a target for predators. Fish will nibble away at proud flesh and keep pecking for food. Larger predators too will feed off a gash in an injured animal. It seemed clear that what Captain Craig Smart, of the dive vessel Starfish Enterprise, saw that morning was the same injured manatee that turned up a few miles south five hours later near the Boynton boat launching ramps.
Songwriter and singer Jimmy Buffett founded the Save the Manatee Club in 1981. Penny Tomasino and Jim Sweat called them and got a recorded message. It was Sunday afternoon, a day even the caring and conscientious volunteers of Save the Manatee Club were away from the phones.
What will happen to this hapless creature? In the wild the propeller blade cuts will infect. The animal will not be able to feed normally. It’s pups will not be nourished if they are still nursing.
If she lives her scars will bear testimony to another encounter with the most intelligent creature on Earth, so called, but then perhaps that bears scientific reevaluation. For, from the rude and aggressive behavior of boaters toward the handful of concerned people trying to save this one manatee, it is hard to consider them intelligent at all. Selfish, greedy, and mean perhaps but not intelligent.
In the scheme of things perhaps we can all learn lessons from these gentle giants. They are the last of the last, the rest of the best, only to succumb to human folly and the excitement of driving a boat at 50 miles per hour in a congested waterway.
Longtime NAUI instructor John Christopher Fine is a marine biologist and expert in marine and maritime affairs. He has authored 24 books, most about ocean and environmental issues. He is a NAUI Instructor Trainer.