North Florida Ecological Services Office
Southeast Region

Florida Manatee sighting: Guidance and Key Points


Florida manatees, a sub-spieces of the West Indian manatee, are native to the southeastern United States. They are commonly seen in Florida throughout the year and are occasional visitors to areas outside of Florida during the warmer months.

Manatees are large marine mammals, typically grey in color, and easily identifiable by their large round tail. Manatees are protected by various state and federal laws including both the federal Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act.

While most manatee seen along the Gulf and East coasts outside of Florida during the summer return to Florida as the weather cools the coastal waters, a number of these animals have been lost to cold stress or required rescues.

What to do when you see a manatee

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 regardless of the animal's location.

When you see a manatee, watch from a distance and don't approach or pursue. In states outside of Florida, please report any sightings to state wildlife officials: for a list click here. If you see a manatee in trouble at any time, it's important to report it; especially if you see a manatee when the weather's cold (manatees can't tolerate the cold). If you see a manatee in trouble at any time, it's important to report it. In Florida, please call 1 888 404-3922. Outside of Florida, please report your sightings to your local state wildlife agency.

Do's and Don'ts

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

DO: Observe manatees from a distance.

DO: Avoid acvtivites such as excessive noise, splashing or similar actions that could disturb manatees. Manatees on the bottom are likely resting or feeding are distrubed by such activities..

DO: If you are in the water when you spot a manatee, maintain your distance and do not approach the manatee(s). This applies regardless of whether you are swimming, snorkeling or scuba diving.

DO: If practical, avoid boatng in areas where manatees have been reported. If you encounter a manatee, operate boats at idle and slow speed and move away from the animal.

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

DO NOT: Attempt to rescue a manatee yoiu believe to be in distress; but DO report the distressed manatee to your local wildlife officials.

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

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

Key Points to Remember

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 elsewhere. 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 attempt to ride, chase, or separate manatees from a group. Such actions are not safe for the animals or you and are against the law.

BOATING: If you are boating in areas where manatee sightings have been reported, please slow down. Operating at slow or idle speeds gives manatees a better chance to get out of the way and makes it easier for you to see them. Wearing polarized sunglasses reduces glare and makes it easier to see manatees below the water. Tell-tale signs include snouts breaking the surface while breathing, "foot prints" where the manatee's round tail leaves a row of circles on the water's surface, and glimpses of the manatees head, rounded back, and/or large tail as they surface and roll.

FOOD AND WATER: Providing manatees with food and water can create significant problems and is a violation of Federal and State wildlife protection laws. Manatees acclimate to feeding and watering, actions that can result in manatees being attracted to boats and boat facilities; boats are a leading cause of death and injury for manatees. Feeding and watering manatees in areas outside of Florida can also cause manatees to remain in an area well beyond the time when they should start making their way back to Florida.

REPORT SIGHTINGS: Please remember to report any manatee sightings outside of Florida to your State wildlife agency. Sighting reports should include a description of the animal(s), location where seen, date and time of sighting, and any other useful information. Photos are helpful but please do not approach manatees when photographing. Reports may also be sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service via e-mail at

For more information:

Manatee Viewing Guidelines: Leaving this site icon

A Boater's Guide to Living with Manatees: - PDF Leaving this site icon

Manatee Protection Tips for Boaters: Leaving this site icon

Manatee Manners Videos Note: while produced by and for the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the information is useful where ever you might encounter a manatee: Leaving this site icon

We encourage to Bookmark and Share this information.

Bookmark and Share

Last updated: November 20, 2019