Jun 08 2011

Manatee Visit the Folly River

Warm weather greeted Folly Beach the morning of April 30th as I headed down to the marina to prepare for the day. “A manatee passed through here about an hour ago-a big one” dockmaster Kurt Howard told me as I walked up to the dockhouse. Seems too early in the year, I think. Late April’s boating temperatures still warrant at least 2 clothing layers.

I put the word out to other mariners in the area. “I’ll keep eyes out”, responded Captain Joe of Charleston Outdoor Adventures. Daniel at Mariner’s Cay replied “Seen at homeowner’s dock around 8:30”. The reports, flowing back from the loose confederation of boat captains, tracked our April manatee’s progress up the Folly River. Around 2:30 that afternoon, Gresh Megget, of Absolute Reel Screamer Charters reported “He’s at Morris Island now”. Gresh watched the manatee moved through the flood channel between the sandbars, then out to sea.

In early May of 2008, I spotted a large pod of dolphin near the confluence of the Folly River and Lighthouse Creek. One of the dolphins appeared to have an abnormally short nose. As they came closer, I saw the huge mermaid tail of a manatee break the water. That particular day I couldn’t even find a fiddler crab to show my 6-year old passenger, so seeing such a rare sight made the trip. The animal turned into Lighthouse Creek heading toward the inlet at last sighting. I wonder if Gresh saw the same manatee I saw three years later?

Apparently, manatees frequent the Folly River. Since record keeping began in 1993, at least one manatee has been seen in the Folly River each year. In addition to the April 30th sighting, another manatee was seen passing north by Sunset Cay Marina on Saturday, May 28th. Is it possible that the same animals take this path each year?

The Florida Manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostris, is a common sight in warmer waters of central and south Florida estuaries. Manatee sightings in South Carolina peak in summer months, especially July and August, with few sightings as early as April. These slow moving marine mammals, reaching lengths of 13 feet and weights of 1500-2200 pounds, often become the victims of boat propeller strikes. According to SCDNR’s manatee page (http://www.dnr.sc.gov/manatee/lifeh.htm), between 1850 and 2004, 1117 manatee sightings have been reported. Boaters are encouraged to report manatee sightings to South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/manatee/index.htm. If possible, make note of scars, which are used to identify individual animals. To avoid manatees while boating, DNR officials suggest traveling in the middle of channels, avoiding the creek edges where manatees swim.

Captain Anton DuMars, a coastal geologist and 30-year Folly Beach resident, owns and operates Tideline Tours, LLC. To contact Anton, please call or text 843-813-2497 or visit http://tidelinetours.com.

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