FWC Manatee Photo-identification Program

By photographing manatees with distinct features researchers are able to track individual manatees over time and examine life history traits of the population.

What is manatee photo-identification?

Manatee photo-identification is a non-invasive research technique that uses the unique pattern of scars and mutilations on a manatee's trunk and tail fluke to identify an individual animal over time.  In Florida, the scars are primarily a result of encounters with boats; however entanglements in fishing gear, cold stress lesions, and fungal infections also can cause scarring.

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TB021 - 1993
Photo credit: FWC
TB021 - 2006
Photo credit: FWC


What does photo-identification tell us?

The capture histories produced through photo-identification efforts are used to estimate annual adult survival rates and to model population dynamics for state and federal assessments of Florida manatee status and recovery.  Additionally these data provide insights into manatee movements, site fidelity, habitat use, behavior, intra- and inter- specific associations, and reproductive parameters such as calving intervals and length of calf dependency.

Manatee photo-identification partnership

Manatee photo-identification research in the southeastern United States is realized through a partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey's Sirenia Project (USGS), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), and Mote Marine Laboratory (MML).  These federal, state, and private entities work collaboratively to photograph Florida manatees throughout their range, process images, identify manatees, and manage an integrated sightings database, known as the Manatee Individual Photo-Identification System (MIPS).  Additional cooperators also provide photographs and associated data to these three main partners.

Connection to the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory

All recovered carcasses are compared to animals documented through manatee photo-identification.

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TB045 - February 2003
Photo credit: FWC
TB045 - MNW0625 - July 2006
Photo credit: FWC


Population dynamics - The study of marginal and long-term changes in the number, individual weights, and age composition of individuals in one or several populations, and biological and environmental processes, or factors, influencing those changes.

Site fidelity - The tendency for an animal to return to the same location year after year.

Intra-specific associations - Associations between manatees.

Inter-specific associations - Associations of manatees with other species.

Reproductive parameters - Reproductive rates and characteristics of the population.

Calving interval - How often a female gives birth to a calf.

Length of calf dependency - How long a calf remains with its mother.

FWC Facts:
Saxitoxin, the compound that produces paralytic shellfish poisoning, was used in suicide pills for U.S. U-2 spy plane pilots in the Cold War in case of crash and potential capture.

Learn More at AskFWC