Hillsborough County deputies working to protect manatees during Gasparilla festivities

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Law enforcement is getting ready for Gasparilla and one major focus is water safety. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is protecting people, but they're also looking out for marine wildlife like manatees.

"Sometimes they'll swim away from you, and other times they may come up and take a look at you," Deputy Michael Wright with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Cold weather and water send Tampa Bay's gentle giants in search of warmth. Sometimes, that's where the Hillsborough River flows out, but that's not where manatees want to be when the flotilla arrives Saturday morning. 

"2,500 boats in a small area in itself is hazardous but then having the manatees in the water, yeah it's definitely a situation we want to maintain control over," Wright said.

Wright and his team are out looking for manatees Friday, to warn boaters ahead of the Gasparilla invasion and to protect the manatees. 

"Really asking the boat captains to be vigilant, be responsible when they see the manatees to you know maybe put their boat in neutral, let the manatee pass by without injuring it," Wright said.

Friday, Wright spotted sting rays and manatees, and is hoping Saturday, they'll hear the invasion coming and head towards Apollo Beach for warmer water. But deputies will be ready to help them. 

"We'll have smaller vessels that will be in here including two jet skis, and they'll actually be able to find those manatees and any other hazards that we need to know about," Wright said.