Manatees on the Move


As the air and water temperatures rise, manatees have begun their annual migration from their winter homes to our bays and canals. This migration sets them on a collision course with watercraft and calls for extra caution on the part of everyone on the water.

The Florida manatee is a native species found in many of Florida’s waterways. First listed as a federal endangered species in 1966, the Florida manatee population has grown to over 6,000 animals today.

In 1975, Florida’s school children helped designate the endangered Florida manatee as Florida’ state marine mammal. Since then, various research, management and educational efforts have occurred to bring back a species that many people thought was on the verge of extinction.

Continued support from thousands of people willing to purchase Save the Manatee specialty license plates or donate funds to the manatee program has allowed the state to develop and administer what was, and is needed for management and research programs that protect and conserve Florida’s manatees for future generations to see and enjoy.

Today, manatees are considered one of Florida’s keystone species whose behavior can alert researchers to the environmental and habitat changes that may otherwise go unnoticed in Florida’s waterways for extended periods of time.


FWC Manatee Management

 Florida manatees were first protected through Florida State Law in 1893. Manatees are now protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act and are federally protected by both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The FWC continues to protect and conserve manatees and their habitat through several programs.


Watercraft and Manatees

 April 1st marked the beginning of seasonal manatee zones in Lee County bay waters that are enforced through November 15th. These protection zones are marked and a map of them can be found at

Approximately 25-30% of manatee deaths statewide are attributed to watercraft – boats and personal watercraft. In recent years, manatee deaths caused by blunt-force impacts (non-cutting) have outpaced manatee deaths caused by propeller cuts, with a small portion of the deaths/injuries attributed to both causes.

The faster a boat goes, the more force is applied to a “strike.” For instance, the force of a strike at 30 miles per hour is four times that of a strike at 15 miles per hour, all other factors being equal. If a watercraft strikes a manatee in the head, such as while the animal is taking a breath, the animal may die immediately. Strikes in other areas can result in acute injuries that quickly result in death but also can result in chronic injuries that linger for days, weeks, or longer before the manatee finally succumbs. Internal injuries, such as broken or dislocated ribs, can result in death from internal bleeding or infection.

Manatees on the MoveWhen Boating or Operating a Personal Watercraft

  • Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to be used by manatees or when observations indicate manatees might be present.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water, which will enable you to see manatees more easily.
  • Try to stay in deep-water channels whenever possible.
  • Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Manatees are often found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons and coastal areas.
  • Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.
  • Please don’t discard monofilament line, hooks or any other litter into the water. Manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die.

What to look for when trying to see manatees?

Manatees on the Move
Photo courtesy of Marine Laboratories

Observations may include a swirl on the surface caused by the manatee when diving; seeing the animals back, snout, tail, or flipper break the surface of the water; or hearing the animal when it surfaces to breathe.

To report a distressed or dead manatee:

Wildlife Alert: 888-404-3922

State mobile: #FWC or

Text to:

To help support manatee programs, the FWC is selling a manatee sticker, “Give Them Space” that can be purchased at Tax Collector offices for $5.

Information and photos provided by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission,