Manatee Tours that Won’t Bother the Manatees

Crystal River 2009, Kevin provides a belly rub (dogs of the sea)

Crystal River 2009, Kevin provides a belly rub (dogs of the sea) ,originally uploaded by Kevin King.

Other marine mammals have etiquette standards. The Whale Sense or Dolphin Smart programs give tourists list of operators that play nice. But who’s smart about the 3,000 manatees left in the U.S.?

As an endangered species and marine mammal, manatees area already supposed to be protected, but go on YouTube and search “manatee harassment.” You’ll find videos of tourists coralling and chasing manatees, separating the mom and calf and even trying to ride or kick them. It’s like Crystal River, FL, tour operators live in a 1950s world where they feel entitled to sell the experience of touching, petting and scratching manatees. Do they then drive home without seatbelts into a house lined with asbestos and eat canned soup casserole for dinner? Haven’t they heard that’s not how you treat wild animals?

“It’s this culture of everybody that come to Crystal River,” says manatee advocate Tracy Colson. “It’s well-advertised that this is the only place where you can touch a manatee. It’s the only place in the world where you can interact with an endangered species.”

Tracy, a local, started volunteering with the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge by going out to guide manatee tourists to be respectful and was so upset with what she saw she started her own company, Nature Coast Kayak Tours.  In 2007 Save the Manatee named Tracy and Steve Kingery manatee heroes for documenting manatee harassment, which kicked off a controversy and push the Fish and Wildlife Service

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Atlanta’s Wildlife Hosptial

Flirty Arigato - SW Bobcat - L. rufus baileyi (Merriam)

Just 20-30  minutes south-east of Atlanta, wildlife rehabilitator Michael Ellis is nursing some dwarf baby squirrels, teaching a great-horned owl independence and giving permanent shelter to a couple bobcats. His outfit, AWARE (Atlanta Wild Animal Rescue Effort), is the biggest wildlife rehab center so close to such a big city  I’ve seen.

Ellis, whose been rehabbing wildlife for two decades, says having big Route 20 nearby is crucial. You ride a few miles off the highway through farmland and the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area and you’re at Aware, which looks like a house with an extensive kennel system. If you serve animals, why  be near a city? Most wildlife injuries involve people (or their cars or cats). But more importantly, the best way to help animals is to teach people how not to kill them.

“I could spend 45 days saving one opossum or 45 minutes with one class of 30 kids and end up saving 1,000 animals over their lifetime,” Ellis says. The grim truth of wildlife rehab is that–except for maybe a few endangered species–its broad impact on animal populations is pretty much nothing. Squirrels and starlings are in no danger of going extinct. “But it makes a big difference to that one animal,” says Ellis. And each of the animal treated impacting the people who find them or learn about them at the center. That’s why Aware wants to reach every kid in Atlanta.

A few of those that can’t make in the wild live out their time at

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Manatees Making a Home in Mobile Bay, Alabama

We tend to think of manatees as living only in Florida and just barely hanging on there, but some exciting new research show they may be spreading to nearby Gulf states. Dr. Ruth Carmichael, senior marine scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab near Mobile, AL, just tagged Alabama’s first officicial manatee resident. You can call the half-ton female “Bama.”

The big question is whether the endangered West Indian Manatee has been here all along, unbeknownst to people, or whether they’re expanding their range. Are people seeing more manatees because they’re looking? Nobody knows..  In 2007 Carmichael started the Mobile Manatees Sighting Network, which gives people a one-stop shop to call or email anytime they see a manatee. In just the first year people reported as many sightings as they had over the previous 30 years.

Carmichael hears from two types of people who live or work near the water. One has never seen them and doesn’t believe they’re there. The other tells her, “‘yeah, my kids have been swimming with them for 30 years.’” She then tries to gently convince them not to play with the manatees. Or give them the fresh water they crave. Since the manatee’s biggest enemy is boat propellers, if you teach them that it’s fun or profitable to hang around people, they have a greater chance of getting hurt. And technically, if you change an endangered species’ behavior, it’s a federal offense. Carmichael doesn’t want to play cop, but would love it if

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Big Foot Tours $499

Nobody was impressed with the evidence presented at the Bigfoot press conference last week. Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer say they have a bigfoot carcass in a freezer in northern Georgia somewhere. But that’s not all! They also have video of a few live big foot or sasquatch hanging around the area.

Whitton and Dyer have alternately been described as hunters, hikers and big foot hunters. I tracked down an older story from a big foot blogger, who linked to their expedition site, Back then Whitton was were referred to as a cop and Dyer a former corrections officer. Dyer says he’s a married dad and former Army ranger. Matt calls himself Gary and says he’s a great tracker who “has associates who train bloodhounds for tracking.”

Most of their current stuff is on the site of Tom Biscardi, who is a more experienced and perhaps more oily bigfoot hawker. The sites share not only a quest for Sasquatch, but also a fondness for blaring completely unrelated music. Biscardi’s site includes field reports from around the country–but none in Georgia.

Whitton and Dyer on bigfootblogger describe getting started on the big foot hunt when being awakened by one “on the side of a mountain north of Helen, Georgia.” They claim to have sold out a trip to the Blue Ridge-Smokies in June where “there have been actual big foot sightings this year” and plan a September trip to “an even more specific area” in September. They brag that

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Kangaroo Ranches in Both Georga and South Dakota

For years I’ve wondered why entrepreneurs don’t set up kangaroo ranges around the country. Now they are starting to. I visited the Kangaroo Conservation Center outside Atlanta last year. It’s a bit of a stretch to call hauling kangaroos thousands of miles from their natural habitat to live in a fence visited by tourists “conservation.” But it’s a fun visit just the same.Now there’s a another kangaroo hot spot: the Roo Ranch in South Dakota.The ranch made it into the news when one of their wallabies briefly escaped at the airport.I haven’t visited–yet–but they seem to be a little bit smaller and less programmed than Atlanta’s Kangaroo center. Admission is only $15, but they do seem to count on making a lot of money off getting your picture taken with a kangaroo–kind of low rent like an amusement park.

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