21 May 2019
Summer is one of the most exciting times for lovers of Florida wildlife, and Sanibel is one of the best places to find it.
As the Gulf of Mexico gets warmer in the summertime, the chances of seeing dolphins and manatees in the open increase. Some dolphins swim close to shore, some farther out. But spotting dolphins at play in the wild is as much a thrill than any choreographed performance in other parts of the world (you know who you are). There are several touring charters, including Captiva Cruises and the Sanibel Thriller, that feature cruises going to where dolphins and manatees are known to congregate. But dolphins are known to follow many boats and ride their wakes, jumping to the cheers of onlookers.
Manatees, however, are not known for breaking water speed records. Florida’s famous “sea cows” can be seen close to shore, mostly at marinas along the Pine Island Sound. It’s sometimes hit or miss on spotting a manatee, depending on the depth and visibility of the water. Sometimes the only evidence is seeing their nose pop up ever so briefly to take a breath before disappearing again. They are also seen in shallow water (such as Jensen’s Marina on Captiva). Because manatees are an endangered species, you’ll notice several areas that are “manatee zones,” requiring boats to operate cautiously there (“no wake”). Remember, it is illegal to harm or harass a manatee…that includes simply touching them!
Various species of sea turtles are nesting from April through October. You’re likely to see dozens of nests marked by yellow stakes and tape along the beach, so please don’t disturb them, especially since some are monitored by camera! They also have a fence covering to prevent coyotes from snacking on turtle eggs, but big enough for 2-inch hatchlings to fit through. Please respect not only the nests themselves, but the beach around it; do not leave beach equipment out overnight, flatten sand castles and fill any holes dug during your time, and pick up all trash, as any of these can cause distractions that will prove fatal to hatchlings (“Leave nothing but footprints.”). Close any curtains or dim any lights that may be seen from the beach and use flashlights that have a red filter if you go out to the beach at night. Above all else, do not pick up any hatchlings, even if you’re trying to put them in the right direction.
Speaking of caution on the beach, remember that stingray season is upon us again. Stingrays are shallow water creatures that travel along shorelines, then bury themselves in the sand when they stop, which makes them hard to see. They are not predatory to humans, but they will instinctively lash out with their barbed tails if you accidentally step on one. The barb can usually hit somewhere around the shin to the knee and is very painful. It contains a venom that can cause infection from bacteria or fungi on the barb if not treated. The best way to avoid this is to do the Stingray Shuffle…simply shuffle your feet as you enter and exit the Gulf, which will prompt them to swim away. If you or someone with you is stung, apply HOT water (hot as you can stand) to ease the pain and seek treatment from a doctor or urgent care center, as you may need antibiotics or even minor surgery to remove pieces of the barb. NEVER USE ICE!
May is alligator mating season…you’ll know it when you hear them! And they tend to venture into new places when looking for a mate, as was the case when a large gator was seen in a local parking lot.
Remember, speed limits are slow on the islands, as you may see all sorts of animals as you drive. These include raccoons (which are making a comeback here), marsh rabbits and tortoises (often seen grazing alongside the roads).