Sanibel-Captiva & Fort Myers Beach, FL  - Vacation Travel Guide

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Sanibel-Captiva & Fort Myers Beach Area Features

Marine Mammals

Florida's Beloved Dolphins and Manatees

Looking out over the glistening water, one may catch a glimpse of a rolling gray fin slicing through the waves. Continued watching may result in the sighting of one of the islands’ favorite creatures, the bottle-nosed dolphin. Containing no bones, the dorsal or back fin keeps the dolphin moving in a straight line. Each fin is uniquely shaped, allowing scientists to distinguish individuals.

Dolphins can be distinguished from porpoises by their elongated snout and cone-shaped teeth. They require a tremendous amount of food, consuming about 40 pounds of fish each day. Our local population is smaller in body size than the same species found in the open ocean, growing to an average length of 8-10 feet and weighing 800-1,000 pounds.

Their long, narrow, torpedo shape makes them ideally suited for life in the water. A dolphin propels itself with powerful up and down strokes of its tail, and its flippers help it to steer. Dolphins have excellent eyesight, and although their ears are barely visible, they have good hearing.

Being very social animals, they travel in groups of two to six called pods, visiting other groups in the community. Bonds between dolphins can last for years.

Florida’s other beloved marine mammal is the West Indian manatee. Also known as the sea cow, they graze on the sea grasses that surround the islands. Despite their size, they are extremely sensitive to cold water. During the warmer months, these gentle creatures are dispersed throughout the area, equally at home in fresh or salt water. During cooler weather, they congregate around springs and water warmed by power plants, such as the water near Manatee Park on State Road 80, which offers the best success at spotting manatees in early mornings.

When the waters are warmer, boaters and paddlers in Tarpon Bay along Captiva’s Roosevelt Channel, and even close to busy marinas, spot manatees.

Bones almost as dense as ivory and thick skin account for much of the mammal’s half-to-one-ton weight. The huge tail supplies the main source of propulsion, and small front flippers act like rudders. The flippers are also used to dig up submerged vegetation. Adult manatees can consume over a hundred pounds of vegetation each day.

Newborn calves can weigh 60 pounds and must hold their breath while nursing. They stay with their mothers for up to two years.

The manatee has been listed as an endangered species since 1967, with only about 3,000 remaining. Floridians have protected this friendly giant as far back as 1892 when it became illegal to kill one. Loss of their precious food source due to changes in water quality, increased boat traffic and other human activity have caused the population decline.

The protection of both manatees and dolphins requires your cooperation. Maintain a safe distance and respect their habitats. Remember, their future is in our hands.

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