Florida Manatees

In Florida, you have the opportunity to see a truly unique species of marine mammal in the waterways. The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is a large, gray, sausage-shaped marine mammal with leathery looking skin similar to an elephant's. The manatee has flippers, a paddle-shaped tail and a whiskered face. The average adult manatee is about 10 feet long. Often referred to as "sea cows" because of their grazing habits, Florida manatees are found throughout peninsular Florida. The manatee is Florida's state marine mammal and is one of the state's imperiled species protected by federal and state laws.

Manatees live in Florida's waterways

Manatees live in many aquatic habitats. Most of the year, the animals may be found in fresh or salt water, preferring calmer rivers, estuaries, bays and canals around coastal Florida.  In the winter, the mammals seek warmer waters and often aggregate in the discharge areas near power plants and natural warm water springs.

How to avoid harassing manatees

To avoid charges of harassment, DO NOT:

  • give food to manatees
  • use water to attract manatees to your boat, dock or marina (etc.) where manatees may be harmed
  • separate a cow and her calf
  • disturb manatee mating herds
  • pursue manatees or chase them from warm water sites
  • disturb resting manatees
  • hit, injure or harm manatees
  • jump on, stand on, hold on to or ride manatees
  • grab or kick manatees
  • block a manatee's path if one or more moves toward you
  • hunt or kill manatees
  • use your vessel to pursue or harass manatees
  • "fish" for or attempt to hook or catch manatees

Report manatee harassment by calling the FWC Wildlife Alert number 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or going online.

What boaters should do in manatee habitat areas

Boaters should avoid manatee habitat areas such as seagrass beds or quiet, shallow areas.  Stay in marked deep water channels when traveling.

It is important to slow down when traveling in known manatee travel corridors. Most travel corridors are marked on the waterways with either Idle or Slow speed signs. Peak travel times occur in these corridors when the water starts to cool down in November and in April when the waters start to warm. Stay alert during these months since manatees are on the move and mothers with young calves may be making this trip for the first time.  Manatees will either be crossing a channel or be somewhere near these marked areas.  Year round habitat areas are marked to allow manatees to travel in areas where boaters may not be aware that they are there.

Look out for signs that manatees are present - swirls on the water, mud plumes or trails, coconut shape snout, flipper or tail, exposed backs.

Wear polarized sunglasses to cut the glare on the water so that you can see manatees that may rest just below the surface.  Manatees must come up to breathe and are not deep water animals.

Remember to post a proper lookout when traveling-someone who can help you scan the water in front of your boat so you can avoid objects in the water.

Manatees and the law

Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. It is illegal to feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, annoy or molest manatees.

The state of Florida has also established regulatory speed zones to protect the manatee and its habitat.

Anyone convicted of violating state law faces maximum fines of $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 60 days. Conviction for violating federal protection laws is punishable by fines up to $100,000 and/or one year in prison.

Learn more about manatees

FWC Facts:
Approximately 1.7 million acres of Florida's remaining natural areas have been invaded by nonindigenous plant species, which have degraded and diminished our ecosystem.

Learn More at AskFWC