FAU researcher might have found solution to manatee boat collisions

Edmund Gerstein claims that slower boat speeds may be causing manatees more harm than good.


The Florida manatee. Photo courtesy of Flickr

Nicole Pujazon, Contributing Writer

The Florida manatee was one of the first mammals ever to be put on the endangered species list in the 1970s. And while they’ve been downgraded to threatened, they’re still at risk in Florida waters.

But after 20 years of research, FAU director of marine mammal research Edmund Gerstein may have found a solution.

Gerstein studies manatees in an effort to increase their low population numbers. Even after a 2007 law was passed requiring boats to slow their speed once they enter “manatee safe zones,” boat collisions kill 100 manatees every year, an FAU press release said.

The director questioned why the mammals tend to swim toward boat engines rather than away from them. After years of testing their hearing, he found that they have “difficulty hearing and locating low frequency sounds,” which means they aren’t aware of a “slow moving boat.”

As a solution, Gerstein and his wife Laura began working on an alarm that can help the sea cows hear the approaching engines.

Gerstein tested the device on 124 manatees, says the The Sun-Sentinel. Ninety-five percent moved from the path of a boat when they heard the alarm. And when the device wasn’t used, 95 percent continued to swim in the same direction.

After starting the project more than 10 years ago, the Gersteins are closer than ever to making it available to the public.

The alarm should cost about $120 once it hits the market.

Nicole Pujazon is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet her @NicolePujazon.