Questions & Answers

Frequently Asked Questions - 90-Day Findings for Two Petitions to Reclassify (Uplist) the West Indian Manatee

ATLANTA, Ga. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed two 90-day findings on Endangered Species Act petitions to uplist the West Indian manatee and the Puerto Rican population of the Antillean manatee. Based on the Service’s review, both petitions present substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned actions may be warranted.

What did the Service conclude in its 90-day findings for the two petitions?

The Service determined a petition to reclassify (uplist) the Puerto Rico population of the Antillean manatee as an endangered distinct population segment presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating the petitioned action may be warranted under the Endangered Species Act. 

The Service also determined a second petition to reclassify the West Indian manatee (including its subspecies the Antillean manatee and Florida manatee) as an endangered species under the ESA presents substantial information that the petitioned action may be warranted. 

During a 12-month status review, the Service will evaluate all relevant threats and conservation actions in detail based on the best scientific and commercial data available. 

What factors led to the Service’s decision about the petitions?

The Service found that low genetic diversity, isolation, and boat collisions may be a threat to the Puerto Rico manatee population. In the petition to reclassify the West Indian manatee and its subspecies as endangered, we found the petition presented substantial information that seagrass loss may be a threat to the species.

What is a 90-day finding? How does the petition process work?

Petitions are formal requests to list a species as endangered or threatened under the ESA. The ESA requires the Service to make an initial finding within 90 days to the maximum extent practicable as to whether the petition includes “substantial information” indicating that a listing may be warranted. If a substantial finding is made, the next step is to conduct a status review and issue a 12-month finding as to whether a listing is warranted. Learn more about listing and the petition process at the following websites:  

What are the next steps?

The Service will conduct an in-depth status review and analysis using the best available science and information to arrive at a 12-month finding on whether the petitioned actions are warranted. If those actions are found to be warranted, the Service will concurrently publish a proposed rule, with a public notice and comment period.  

What is a distinct population segment?

The ESA allows the listing or delisting of a distinct population segment of vertebrate species (i.e., mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians). A DPS is a population that is discrete from, and significant to, the species as a whole.  The Service’s DPS policy can be found at: 

Where do manatees occur?

The map below shows the current range of the two subspecies of West Indian manatee — the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee.

West Indian manatee range:  Along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, throughout the Caribbean, and as far south as Brazil’s Atlantic coastline. 

Florida manatee range:  Along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts, as well as in northern portions of the Caribbean, from the Bahamas to Turks and Caicos. 

Antillean manatee range:  Southern portions of the Caribbean, including Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, and Jamaica; in Central America from Mexico’s southeast Caribbean coast to the Caribbean coast of Panama; Trinidad and Tobago; and south to Brazil’s Atlantic coastline. 

Why was this 90-day finding delayed?

The ESA requires the Service to make an initial finding on whether a petition presents substantial information indicating the petitioned action is warranted within 90 days of receiving the petition, to the maximum extent practicable.  

While working toward making the initial finding, the Service staff was investigating a high level of manatee mortalities and responding to manatee rescues along the Atlantic coast of Florida, making it impractical to issue the initial finding within the 90-day timeframe. For more on the unusual mortality event, please visit

One of the petitions requested the designation of critical habitat. What is the finding on that?

While designating critical habitat is not a petitionable action under the ESA, the information will be reviewed under the Administrative Procedure Act and to the extent “prudent and determinable,” will be addressed with any proposed rule for the species, as appropriate. 

The Service is currently working on a revised proposed critical habitat rule for the Florida manatee. 

Where can I find more information about helping manatees?

There are a number of conservation organizations working to help protect and save manatees. Here are some things you can do to help protect and save manatees:  

  • Look for manatees before cranking your boat’s motor. 

  • Use caution when navigating in shallow water. Manatees have greater difficulty diving away from boats in these areas. 

  • Heed  “slow speed,” “no wake” and manatee warning signs, especially around docks. 

  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare, making it easier to spot manatees below the surface. 

  • Watch for large swirls in the water, called footprints, that may be caused by manatees diving away from the boat. 

  • Never feed manatees or give them fresh water. This could teach the animals to approach humans and dangerous areas, like docks, putting them at greater risk of a boat strike. It is also illegal to feed and water manatees. 

  • Never pursue, harass, or play with manatees. These actions are also illegal. 

  • Report injured, orphaned, entangled, distressed, or dead manatees to your state’s wildlife agency.