VIDEO: Manatee encounter on Siesta Key tests legal limits

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – A viral video posted on Facebook shows a large herd of manatees swimming close to shore off Siesta Key in Sarasota.

Chris Otto

The spectacle shocked beach-goers who raced to catch a glimpse.

FWC investigators looked at the Facebook post to make sure people didn’t break the law and get too close.

“Check this pod coming up right on the beach. This is the coolest thing you’re ever gonna see,” Chris Otto is heard saying on a cell phone camera video that he shot.

Just feet from the shoreline, tourists and locals marveled at the sight of several manatees swimming by.

When he’s not strumming his guitar, Otto enjoys paddle boarding.

“If you don’t get to see it once in your life, you got to see it on my video,” he said before entertaining diners at Walt’s Fish Market Restaurant.

He said seeing manatees in groups along the shore is common, but not with so many people nearby to watch.

He’s quickly learning the rules when it comes to manatees.

“Stand and watch. That’s for sure, and if you’re gonna post the video on Facebook, just make sure you know what you’re doing cause I never expected global video out of this,” said Otto.

Mote Marine Laboratory’s Shelby Isaacson explains the female is trying to get away from the males.

“They are powerful creatures. Actually, they can be over 1,000 pounds so it is a concern, not for the animals themselves, which we obviously care quite a bit, we are concerned about the people getting too close,” said Isaacson.

A thrashing tail can pose a danger.

The Facebook video attracted more than manatee fans.

“When the FWC officer showed up this morning to tell me that I was warned to stay away from manatees, I said, ‘Maybe you should close the beach during mating season,’” said Otto.

Just remember, hang back and let the manatees do their thing.

An FWC investigator said he didn’t see any violations in the video.

The people watching were well behaved.

UPDATE: Mote scientists would like to know about your sightings of manatee mating herds. Please call Mote’s Manatee Research Program hotline at 941-388-4441 ext. 379 and leave your name, number, location of herd (channel marker or nearest business/home address) and time of sighting. Please leave messages on this hotline for healthy manatees only. If you see a sick, injured, stranded or dead manatee, dolphin, whale or sea turtle within Sarasota or Manatee County waters, please call Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212 or FWC Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

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