Many folks were spending a sunny Saturday, the 9th of April, perusing delicacies at the Pierce Street Market, harbor front Clearwater Bay. Some very fit participants were even practicing for the Iron Girl Clearwater Competition the following day. But little did these land dwellers know, something rather dramatic was brewing in the waters just yards away!
Florida manatees happened to have their own frisky agenda this fine spring day. Now it’s not unheard of to spy manatees around and about Clearwater Bay. Although, a group of twelve or more manatees together in shallow nearshore waters is unusual and sure got my attention! Since images speak so much more eloquently than I possibly can, here’s a minute of video to give you the flavor of this rare event:
Manatees Cavorting in Clearwater Harbor Marina. About 6:15pm, Saturday April 9, 2016. A Rare Event Right in Front of Coachman Park.
What just happened here? Yes, this is manatee cavorting at its most robust! Actually members of this raucous group had been in extra-friendly pairings all day. Earlier that morning I saw a video from a captain I know that showed a few at his marina nearby. This herd was observed along a two to three mile stretch of the intracoastal all throughout the day. When we caught up with them all seemed to meld into a grand crescendo!
Large mating manatee herds like this one have been spotted on occasion at nearby Island Estates by the mangroves, stopping traffic on the Courtney Campbell Causeway and even requiring a special private area to be cordoned off right by Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach.
Now, we can add this rambunctious group to the list of rare large manatee mating herds in the area! Many times a female manatee is followed by several male suitors, but this group seemed to pick up additional members…, so who knows how many females were causing all the hubbub? Smaller separate pairings were seen earlier in the day that seemed to join together in some sort of springtime serendipitous celebration. Personally I think the saying, “The more the merrier” fit to a T.
After Coachman Park the manatees continued on north towards the boat channel. Fortunately there was a Small Craft Advisory in effect so there were hardly any boats around the busy waterway. Later the manatees looked like they were breaking up into smaller groups in the shallow waters at the tip of the Seminole Docks. I hope some of the male manatees got lucky…, as there are few things that gladden my heart like the sight of a newborn manatee calf! ?
In my video, at times, why is the cavorting manatee group moving at such an intensely frenetic pace? I’m not sure but here are three of my ideas:
1) These frisky manatees had been intimately socializing so closely all day that it naturally reached a feverish pitch.
2) The currents were running so fast with the outgoing tide it literally swept them along without much effort and more momentum came from the large collective herd movements?
3) The male manatee’s strategy may have been to beach the female(s) in shallow water so they could get at them, thus the unusual route by the Coachman Park shallow sea wall. But the female(s) noticed the strong outgoing current and didn’t want to get stranded…, at least not there? Thus the powerful fast swimming.
Any one of these explanations seems plausible and a consultation with an experienced manatee researcher would shed further light. I think a combination of the above three factors is behind the unusual event. Mating is not unusual, but the pace and rate of movement in the shallow harbor channel seemed quite rare, at least from the numerous manatees I’ve personally observed.
And the unusual wildlife didn’t end there! You see three roseate spoonbills in the video. We observe spoonbills regularly in Clearwater Bay, especially this time of year. But I would still list roseate spoonbills as rather uncommon here.
Also, on the walk home my husband Theo and I saw three white-phase reddish egrets! Thank goodness Theo remembered the binoculars! First, I was struck at a distance by one’s fancy wing-dance. Then the other large white bird joined in. The third, smaller one, was amusing because it didn’t seem to know what was up so it pranced about clumsily? Their beaks fit the ID patterns as did their crests and the fact that they were by themselves with no other species of birds near. To top it off I have seen another reddish egret couple in the same area, although one was reddish and one was white-phase. I’m no bird expert, but I gather white plus white-phase reddish egret pairings produce white offspring and it is uncommon. Another wonderful sighting!
Not to be outdone, four bottlenose dolphin were also swimming around during the manatee cavorting party! Here’s one of the dolphins Theo photographed on the South side of Clearwater Harbor Marina near Pierce. The manatee mating herd would pass through this very spot not long afterwards.
Wow! What an afternoon/evening! I’m pretty much speechless at this point and I’ll keep everyone updated with more interesting sightings and events! I will keep my eyes peeled for sure!