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Date of Issue: October 05, 2006

Sandscript

Raft registration averted, seal protection program proceeds

It appears that Big Brother has flinched when it comes to oversight of "non-motorized vessels" in Florida.

A subcommittee of the Florida Boating Advisory Council had decided that registration is not needed for canoes, kayaks, rowboats, non-powered sailboats and paddlecraft. The vote was close - 4-3 - to recommend the non-registration status to the full board in December, which will then make its recommendation to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Anything that's powered has to have a registration sticker, an FL number, in the state. Debate has raged, of sorts, for years about placing some sort of semi-official status on wind- or human-powered vessels.

However, the subcommittee did suggest "state-approved education courses strengthen their educational component for non-motorized vessels."

And get this: The group magnanimously decided to ignore other "watercraft" classed as "watertoys" such as "air mattresses, inner tubes, float tubes, boogie boards, surf boards, beach rafts or other similar devices designed to be used by bathers at beaches, lakes or swimming pools."

Can you imagine the furor that would erupt if all "fun noodle" owners had to register their "vessels" and take some sort of a boat-education course?

Before all you kayakers get worked up about the need for some sort of boater education course, FWC points out that, "Of Florida's 70 reported fatal boating accidents in 2005, 10 involved non-motorized vessels, which resulted in 12 of the 81 boating fatalities."

Be careful out there, no matter what type of watercraft you're on.

 

There be seals here!

Willing to submit to charges of anthropomorphism, here's what I'd like to think happened a few months ago somewhere along the eastern seaboard of the United States:

"Hey, Big and Lumpy! What are you doing so far from home?"

"Hey, you two little slinky girls, what are YOU doing so far from home?"

The wandering manatee tells the pair of female hooded seals about the wonders of Florida's waters. The seals describe the delights of their own home off Newfoundland. They part, each to vacation in the other's home turf.

According to the Palm Beach Post, a pair of the juvenile seals were rescued off a South Florida beach a week or so ago. Patches and Sandy were dehydrated and lethargic - no wonder, since they swam a long, long way. They were responding to treatment, and Sandy was later flown to New Jersey for more care before her release. Patches, unfortunately, worsened over the weekend and was euthanized Saturday.

The manatee's fate is still uncertain after it was spotted off Cape Code a month or so ago. It was the most-traveled sea cow noted to date, and probably will have to also receive some human intervention as waters chill up north and it's long, long trek becomes more deadly as fall and then winter temperatures drop. Manatees have real problems when the water temps dip into the 60s.

Another manatee ventured to the Chesapeake Bay area about 10 years ago and had to be flown back home to Florida. Biologists have decided the Cape Cod manatee isn't the same critter, as was thought by some.

The seal migration is not as rare, but what is uncommon is the number of the little critters that are moving south.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Hooded seals are named for their bi-lobed hood, an enlargement of the nasal cavity on the heads of males. The male can inflate the red-colored hood as part of the mating ritual or to scare off predators. Hooded seals are found in deep, cold waters throughout much of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, but the seals, especially pups, tend to wander far outside this range.

"The seals have been spotted as far south as Puerto Rico. This year, there have been nine hooded seal strandings between North Carolina and Puerto Rico, including three in Florida."

The previous high spot in seal migrations came in 2001, when seven made a trip south. Most years see one or two.

The Post offered a good quote about Patches and Sandy, too. "They're like little extraterrestrials, really," Gregory Bossart, director of marine mammal research and conservation at Harbor Branch, a research facility north of Fort Pierce, told the newspaper.

There's no real explanation as to why the seals took off. Speculation has been offered that warmer temperatures in the Arctic Circle - global warming! - caused the ice to melt earlier than usual and the seals just traveled farther than they thought they should.

Another thought was that a change in ocean currents - hurricanes! - spurred the extended travel.

Whatever, the little seals, all of 65 pounds each, are called "notorious wanderers" when young, not unlike a puppy or kitten trying to explore its new universe.

Oh, and to save you having to look it up, anthropomorphism is the placement of human characteristics to non-human things, like animals or inanimate objects.

Bag it, and save a turtle

Bradenton Beach and its WAVES committee have come up with a pretty nice little environmentally friendly gift for folks heading to the beach.

They've got some nice little canvas bags that they hope beachgoers will use instead of plastic to carry drinks and eats or trash for a day on the sand or a day boating.

The problem with plastic is that it tends to blow around in the wind, littering the beaches and bays and Gulf. The real problem with the plastic is that when it gets into the water, sea turtles and other marine life often mistake it for their usual food of jellyfish and gobble it down, causing an intestinal blockage that can often prove fatal.

The bags were the result of a grant from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program. Sponsors include the city, Waterfronts Florida and The Islander.

We've got a few bags at the office, and you're welcome to take one and, and the slogan states, "Swap your bag … save the beaches and bays!" We're at 5404 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.

 

hooded sealSandscript factoid

Hooded seals are a bit more hardy than manatees, able to withstand much more diverse temperature extremes in their watery world. Nonetheless, they are mostly a cold-water creature, and the waters off South Florida and the Caribbean are naturally warmer than their usual haunts.

Florida once had a seal population, by the way. According to the International Marine Mammal Association, "At one time, Caribbean, or West Indian, monk seals inhabited the Caribbean Sea, northwest to the Gulf of Mexico, as well as from the Bahamas to the Yucatan Peninsula, south along the Central American coast and east to the northern Antilles.

"The Caribbean monk seal was formally declared extinct in 1996. The last reported sighting in 1952 was from Seranilla Bank between Jamaica and Honduras, where a small colony was known to have lived.

"The Caribbean monk seal was documented as being easily approachable and not aggressive and they were easily killed during directed hunts in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also known that sailors, whalers and fishers opportunistically killed the seals they encountered. As well, Caribbean monk seals were killed by museum collectors and displayed in zoos.

"All monk seal species appear to have been sensitive to disturbance, and early habitat exclusion by humans throughout their range may have exacerbated their decline."

The seals were grayish-brown in color and about 6 feet in length.

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