Beachgoers in Fort Myers were treated to an amazing sight: a herd of mating manatees off the shore at the appropriately named Lover’s Key.
Cape Coral resident Renee Verriello captured the romantic scene for her Facebook followers in two posts.
The woman, who also happens to be a wildlife landscape photographer, told FOX 35 News she was on the beach a week ago Sunday when she spotted about a dozen or so manatees congregating.
Vermello called witnessing something so wondrous up close was “a once in a lifetime experience.”
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, mating season starts in spring and can run into the fall.
If you spot these creatures in action, give them their distance, warns the agency, which is investigating a high level of mortalities along the central and south Atlantic coast of Florida. The sea cows are at risk of dying from starvation thanks in part to exposure to toxins from the harmful algal bloom known as red tide.
More of these marine mammals have died this year than in any other year in Florida’s recorded history.
“We want them to mate without people interacting,” Andy Garrett, FWC’s manatee rescue coordinator told Bay News 9 after other passersby saw manatees mating off Tampa Bay earlier this month.
Though fascinating, gawking can be dangerous for humans.
“These males are trying to get underneath her to mate with her and they roll around, Garrett said. “Sometimes they’re not aware of their surroundings and people can get very injured getting close.”
The Florida manatee, also known as a sea cow, was reclassified from an endangered to a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in May 2017.