For Michael McCarthy, owner of See Through Canoe, close-up encounters with dolphins and manatees in Florida's wildlife-rich waters are part of the job. But when he recently came across a juvenile sea cow he's affectionately dubbed Tater Tot, McCarthy noticed the young manatee was chomping on something unusual.

"He had a piece of plastic in his mouth and looked like he was trying to eat it," McCarthy explained in a Facebook post. Although the footage only offers a glimpse of the manatee munching on the discarded trash, McCarthy spent about 20 minutes trying to pry the plastic away from the playful youngster. "He seemed to think it was a game, and every time he came close enough to almost grab it, he turned away," the canoeist recalled.

After finally managing to snatch the plastic away from Tater Tot, McCarthy was treated to a show as the youngster hung around his canoe while its mother grazed on seagrass nearby. "I really couldn't believe it and it took a few moments to process," he told MSN News. "I want people to pick up trash when they see it, even if it isn't theirs. And I want them to realise that trash can kill a variety of animals in a variety of ways."

In the winter months, manatees in the United States hang around Florida's rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays and canals. But it's been a tough year for the lovable sea lumps. With six weeks still left in 2018, Florida is on course to beat last year's record for the number of manatees killed by boat. The Sunshine State has already tied last year's tally of 107 and, should it be exceeded, 2018 will mark the third consecutive record-setting year for watercraft-related deaths.

And it's not only boats that pose a threat to Florida's manatees. Algal blooms, known as red tides, have wiped out at least 193 of the animals this year helping bring the total death toll to 741 for 2018 – the highest it's been in five years. Pollution in the form of plastic or discarded fishing line certainly doesn't help the situation. Luckily for Tater Tot, the offending trash was removed.

For more on manatee conservation and to find out what you can do to help them, visit Save the Manatee.


Top header image: Sabrina Egan/Flickr