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Save the Manatee ?

bobe3A sure way to get elected to public office is to have the backing of a powerful lobby such as the Save the Manatee Club (SMC) which was founded by former Governor Bob Graham and Jimmy Buffett. The organization is represented on facebook, YouTube, twitter, and myspace. They sell T-shirts, bumper stickers and license plates. Not only won’t I get their support; I’ll be lucky if no one throws a shoe at me when I’m speaking about manatees.

Before the SMC puts out a fatwah on me; I wish to mention that my Manatee Stew Recipe, posted on the internet, was only a joke.

I knew all this going into a recent public hearing hosted by a committee of boaters and environmentalists set up by the Broward County Commission, to review and comment on the proposals of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). The FWC is considering the first changes to speed zones in 17 years, using updated information on both manatees and boating patterns.

The FWC has a $290 million annual budget. In addition to protecting manatees they do keep a few statistics on boating accidents and fatalities involving humans. I could not find any state agency that specifically looks out for boaters or the $18 billion boating industry. I did find the RSVIPP, the Reusable Space Vehicle Industry Prize Program. I suggest that a better use for the soon to be unemployed rocket scientists would be to start the MADE ME program i.e. the make a diesel engine more efficient program.

Of the nine speakers at the hearing, only two thought that additional manatee zones were unnecessary. I was one of them. David Fleshler, of the Sun Sentinel reported on the hearing. He commented to me that he had expected a bigger turnout from boaters. I agree. Maybe the boaters have just given up.

I told the committee that the increasing manatee population, and the small number of manatee deaths did not justify increased regulation. I was supported by Patience Cohn of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida. The environmentalists came up with numerous arguments as to why more regulation and speed zones were needed.

I was accused of just focusing on deaths and ignoring the injured manatees, suggesting that I probably thought child abuse was OK as long as the child was not killed. The environmentalists stated that boating is supposed to be relaxing and there is no reason to go fast. It will just take a little longer to get where you’re going. This was starting to sound like my wife. She thinks that I shouldn’t mind standing in line because I’m retired. Running my diesels at idle is not good anyway so maybe I should sell my Sea Ray and buy a sailboat.

A sailboat should make the environmentalists happy. At 6 knots it will be hard to run over a manatee and my wake and carbon footprint will be smaller. And as they pointed out, you shouldn’t be in a hurry when you’re boating. I can only hope that when I’m requesting one of the many bridge openings I’ll need, they are not tied up in traffic on the way to the animal hospital with their pet hamster in distress.

Maybe a better idea would be for the manatee people (MPs), with the financial backing of the Save the Manatee Club, to buy my boat and make it into an artificial reef and I’ll give up boating all together. I’m sure one manatee saved is worth $100,000. As an added benefit I will use some of the money to fly to Costa Rica and help search for the Golden Toad which may have become extinct.

One of the speakers at the hearing stated “They're one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. So everyone that moves to Florida that's a boater needs to keep that in mind.” It’s too bad our forefathers didn’t give the same respect to the Indians.

Do the MPs afford the same respect for all animals? Even the FWC only keeps track of endangered species, such as panthers, killed on Florida roadways. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of critters killed each year on the highways. Maybe we should shut down I75. Who decides whether a manatee is more important than an armadillo?

Imagine if the MPs were in charge of boarding for Noah’s Ark? There is no telling what critters would be running around earth today.

Another MP highlighted one of the problems for boaters when she asked what “slow speed” meant on the Manatee Zone signs. The committee chairperson was unable to answer the question. However he was correct in saying that the question was not in the purview of the hearing. There is no question that the signs along the ICW are inconsistent and confusing. The difference between idle speed and slow speed is a gray area. Most boaters know they are responsible for their wakes. But few, if any, could tell you if their wake was 15” or 12” in height. Larger boats at idle may still have a big wake.

Another inconsistency on the signage is the dates. Most manatee zones in South Florida end on March 31st. But, there are others that end on April 30th right in the middle of two March 31st zones. How does the manatee know the difference? If it does stay until April 30th and heads north, it will be in harms way.

Regarding manatee intelligence; Wikipedia states that they are capable of understanding discrimination tasks, and show signs of complex associated learning and advanced long term memory. They demonstrate complex discrimination and task-learning similar to dolphins. If this is true, why can’t they get out of the way of a boat? It’s common knowledge that a cockroach is stupid, but they are harder to catch than a manatee.

I personally feel that cockroaches get a bad rap. One of my favorite movies was the animated film Twilight of the Cockroaches, which combined live-action footage with animation. The plot concerns a society of cockroaches who live peacefully in the apartment of a bachelor named Seito until a woman moves in and the humans begin to exterminate the cockroaches. There is a happy ending as the pregnant lead cockroach, Naomi, escapes to mother many generations.

Cara Campbell, representing the Ecology Party of Florida, said the state shouldn't cater to the interests of “selfish boaters” who want to ignore the impact of what they do, which includes the countless number of manatees scarred by propellers. “Is it OK for manatees to repeatedly suffer horrible wounds and try to survive, and try to bear calves and try to reproduce under these conditions?” she asked. She somehow knows that the scarred manatees were hit by “selfish boaters” rather than the M/V Oasis of the Seas coming into Port Everglades full of “selfish tourists.”

The whole point of this article is setting the proper priorities in life. The MPs only seem to be concerned when an animal becomes endangered. As I mentioned above, the FWC only keeps track of panthers killed on the highways. Alligators at one time were endangered. When their numbers increased we opened hunting season to bring them back in line. Humans kill 100 million sharks each year and that’s intentional. The few manatee deaths are all accidental.

People in Miami Beach were threatening to throw themselves in front of a bulldozer to save some cats living in a condemned building. This is not the behavior of a rational person.

The MPs that spend many a sleepless night worrying about manatees, don’t give a second thought to spending $41 billion per year on pet food, plus another $10 billion on pet supplies or $400 million on pet insurance. I have a hard time getting boat insurance.

OK manatees and puppies are cute, but this selfish boater would spend his $50 billion on frivolous things such as rebuilding homes in Haiti or feeding the 5 million starving children around the world.

When will the MPs be concerned with the starving children, when children become an endangered species?


Bob E Sherman is a columnist for the Waterfront Times and author of the book Am I the Only One That Signals?