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
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
How to avoid harassing
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
What boaters should do in manatee
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
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
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