North Florida Ecological Services Office
Southeast Region

Florida Manatee sighting Guidance and Key Points

Background

Manatees are a federally protected under both the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. The numbers of manatees found outside of Florida during the summer months are gradually increasing. While most return to Florida as the weather cools the coastal waters, a number of these animals have been lost to cold stress or required rescues.

Issue

Florida residents are accustomed to this native species in their waters, but outside Florida fascination and curiosity can lead to unintended consequences. The following information is provided to guide agencies, organizations and the public in interacting with these animals.

Do's and Don'ts

DO: Report sightings to your local wildlife officials or marine law enforcement office.

DO: Observe manatees from the surface of the water and at a distance.

DO: Avoid excessive noise and splashing that could disturb bottom-resting manatees.
Manatees on the bottom are likely resting or feeding.

DO: Use snorkel gear if you are in the water, and maintain your distance when watching manatees.

DO: Operate boats at idle and slow speed in areas where manatees have been reported.

DO NOT: Do not feed manatees or give them water.

DO NOT: Ride, chase, poke or surround manatees.

DO NOT: Separate a mother and calf or an individual from a group.

Key Points to Remember

FOOD AND WATER: Providing wildlife with food and water is not only a violation of federal, and often State, wildlife protection laws, but also creates significant problems for both the animals and for people. This is particularly true from manatees, as they easily acclimate to hand-outs of food and fresh water. These artificial attractants can result in the manatees being exposed to greater risks of injury or death due to boats, as the animal may view docks and boats as a location where food and water can be found and seek out both. For manatees outside of Florida this can also result in the animal remaining in an area well beyond the time it should start making its way back to Florida.

OBSERVING MANATEES: Seeing a Florida manatee for the first time can be both an exciting and emotional experience. These large, lumbering, gentle creatures capture the imagination and are an awesome sight whether seen in Florida or anywhere along the U.S. eastern or Gulf of Mexico coastlines. It's easy to get carried away in the moment, but remember to always observe manatees (and other wildlife) at a distance. If you see manatees on the bottom they are likely resting or feeding. Don't do anything to disturb them, and never ride, chase, poke or separate manatees from a group. Such actions are not safe for the animal or you, and are a violation of federal law.

BOATING: In areas where manatee sightings have been report please slow down or even consider operating at idle speed through the area. Wearing polarized sunglasses reduces glare and makes it easier to see the manatee snouts breaking the surface for a breath of air: you'll see - and sometimes hear - them blow-out accumulated water just before taking a breath.

Remember, report manatee U.S. coastline sightings outside Florida to your local wildlife agency or marine law enforcement. You may also send a report to us via e-mail at manatee@fws.gov.

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Last updated: May 1, 2013