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Living with Florida Manatees

Two manatees swimming in Wakulla Springs
Group of manatees swimming under the water
manatees eating

Florida Manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris)

A truly unique species of marine mammal lives in Florida’s waterways. The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is native to Florida and has existed here for millions of years. Manatees are large, gray, tube-shaped marine mammals with leathery looking skin, whiskered faces, flippers, and paddle-shaped tails. 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. Pictured here is a 15-million year-old Miocene sea cow fossil skeleton replica that is on display in the DEP Geological Survey building in Tallahassee, Florida. The skeleton was found in a quarry in Northwest Florida and donated to the state in 1929.

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, manatees seek warmer waters and often migrate to the discharge areas near power plants and in natural warm water springs to survive the cold temperatures.

Without polarized sunglasses, manatees can be hard to see when there is a glare on the water.

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

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. The zones are located where manatees live or travel regularly or seasonally.

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

To report an injured, dead, harassed, or orphaned manatee

Call the Wildlife Alert Hotline 888-404-FWCC(3922). Cell phone users may call *FWC or #FWC.

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