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It’s Manatee Appreciation Day! Go slow and look below

Manatees are Florida’s official marine mammal

File photo of manatee resting at Three Sisters Springs in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge while shading over a school of mangrove snappers.
File photo of manatee resting at Three Sisters Springs in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge while shading over a school of mangrove snappers. (Center for Biological Diversity)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The last Wednesday of March is Manatee Appreciation Day, designated to focus the world’s attention on this vulnerable marine mammal with no known natural enemy.

Manatees face many threats, from habitat loss to watercraft collisions and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission used the occasion to remind anyone on the water to slow down and look out for manatees while boating in Florida this spring.

While manatees are not endangered -- they’re no longer listed as endangered -- but are a species of concern. The FWC recorded 619 manatee deaths in the state last year -- nine of those in Duval County, 11 in Putnam County, nine in St. Johns County, four in Flagler County and one in Clay County.

As water temperatures warm, manatees are leaving their winter refuges and are more likely to be in rivers, canals and nearshore waters. Florida boaters are also enjoying the season, so it is crucial to stay alert and avoid manatees while traveling through Florida’s waterways.

“This year, especially along the east coast, it is critical that people watch for manatees when on the water,” said the FWC’s Ron Mezich. “With warmer weather, manatees will begin to disperse into open water, heading to a variety of coastal and freshwater habitats containing more ample food sources.”

From April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees in their summer habitats from being injured or killed by motorboats or personal watercraft. Boat strikes continue to be a major threat to Florida manatees. In 2020, FWC and partners rescued 29 manatees injured from watercraft collisions and more died because of watercraft impacts. FWC law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to inform boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take appropriate enforcement actions. Boaters are reminded to abide by the regulatory signs they see on the water.

Manatees can be difficult to detect when they are underwater, so it is important for operators of boats and personal watercraft to be vigilant. You can help protect manatees by following these simple guidelines:

  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot manatees.
  • Avoid boating in shallow areas to prevent damaging seagrass and to avoid resting and grazing manatees.
  • Look for large circles on the water, also known as manatee footprints, indicating the presence of a manatee below.
  • Look for a snout sticking up out of the water.
  • Follow posted manatee zones while boating.
  • Physically helping a stranded manatee may cause it more harm. Instead, report injured, distressed, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone so trained responders can assist.

Resources for boaters, educators and other interested members of the public are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee. What should you do if you see a manatee? The Viewing Guidelines page provides helpful tips on respectfully viewing manatees, additional guidelines for boat and personal watercraft operators and information on what you can do to help these amazing aquatic mammals.

Are you interested in supporting the FWC’s manatee research, rescue and management efforts? You can purchase a Florida manatee license plate, or donate $5 to receive a collectible FWC manatee decal. Both are available from your local tax collector’s office.