The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is Florida’s official marine mammal. Scientists estimate there are approximately 5,000 of these harmless, fascinating mammals living in Florida’s waterways.
- Florida’s manatees are protected by the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act.
- It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal, including manatees. Anything that disrupts a manatee’s normal behavior is a violation, punishable under state law by up to a $1,000 fine, six-month imprisonment, or both. Under federal law, a violation is punishable by up to a $50,000 fine, one-year imprisonment, or both.
- If you see a dead or distressed manatee, or one that is being harassed, report this to the FWC Law Enforcement on VHF Channel 16 or by phone at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). A law enforcement officer will assist with the rescue or recovery and provide the appropriate follow-through.
- If you accidentally injure a manatee, immediately stop your vessel, and locate where you are on the LORAN/GPS or by locating directional markers. Contact the FWC on VHF Channel 16 or dial 1-888-404-FWCC (3922). If you can locate the animal again, stay nearby and report its location and direction of travel. Try to determine the number of times the manatee surfaces to breathe during a five-minute period. The more information you provide, the better the chance there is that the manatee can be rescued, rehabilitated, and returned to the wild population.
Help the Manatee Make a Comeback in Florida
Boaters should avoid manatee habitat areas and use caution when traveling in known manatee travel corridors. If you must travel in these areas, follow these guidelines.
- Observe all regulatory zones. In areas that are not posted, slow down to a safe speed.
- Stay in the designated marked channels. Manatees have shown signs that they are avoiding heavy vessel traffic areas. Channel depth reduces the chance of pinning or crushing manatees.
- Use caution when you are around areas of prime manatee habitat. The habitat areas include seagrass beds and areas where hydrilla and water hyacinths are present. Use idle speed, pole, or paddle when near these areas.
- Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce the glare on the water and help you see manatees and seagrass beds.
- If you fish, do not discard fishing lines, hooks, or nets in the water. Manatees have been injured and killed from getting tangled in or ingesting line trapped in the plants where they feed.
- If you dive or swim near manatees, look, but do not touch them. Taking photographs is permissible, but do not chase manatees in order to get a picture. Remember to respect their habitat, and be a passive observer. Manatees at warm water sites are there to stay warm and conserve energy—do not disturb them at these sites.
- Scan the water near or in front of your vessel for any water patterns that indicate manatees are nearby. Look for swirls that look like a huge footprint, a repetitive line of half-moon swirls, a mud trail, or any breaking of the surface by a snout or a tail. If you see any of these water patterns or see a manatee, give the manatee the right-of-way and try to stay at least 50 feet away. The manatee may not be traveling alone—it may have a calf or be traveling with other manatees.