On Thursday, December 10th a manatee was photographed near our New Canal Lighthouse by Joe Underwood. There are manatee sightings in Lake Pontchartrain almost every year but, most manatee sightings are on the north shore, generally in spring and summer months and rarely if ever, has a manatee been seen on the south shore.
In the United States, the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) is currently a threatened species and are typically found in the northern Gulf of Mexico ranging from Texas to Florida.
They are a freshwater species that tolerate brackish and salt water as long as they can return to freshwater refuges. Temperature and salinity are the main driving factors that determine suitable manatee environments. Scientists think that most migratory Gulf of Mexico manatee emigrate from their Floridian winter sanctuaries westward across the Gulf, making stops to eat seagrass and aquatic plants and seeking warm freshwater sanctuaries to digest their food along the way. The peaceful species is beginning to rebound, but faces new dangers.
While Manatee fatalities are often associated with ‘boat strikes’, the number has steadily been increasing due to algae blooms. Blooms are capable of killing the animal outright, but also destroy the sea grass that manatees graze upon. Nutrient loading from malfunctioning sewer systems and agricultural run-off contribute to the algae blooms. With Spillway openings becoming more frequent the water is fresher and more capable of having a bloom.
Even though manatee populations are growing, the public is urged to report sightings and strandings to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Wildlife Diversity Program.