About the Florida Manatee
The Florida manatee, a
subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is Florida's official marine
mammal. Its sausage-like body tapers to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. The
upper part of it's body has two flippers with three to four
"fingernails" on each flipper. The head and face are wrinkled, and the
snout has stiff whiskers.
Boaters can help protect manatees by staying in marked channels,
watching the water carefully, obeying manatee speed zones and not
throwing fishing line and six-pack plastic in the water.
Manatee Protection Zones
These areas are sections of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) where you
MUST slow down at certain times of the year. The areas and dates vary
from county to county.
FAQs (Frequently Asked
should I do if I find a dead or injured manatee?
If you find a dead or injured manatee, please report it by calling
1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). Cellular phone customers can dial *FWC
or #FWC, depending on their location.
Do manatees have teeth?
Manatees have molars but no front teeth (no incisors or canines).
Manatee teeth are unusual among mammals because they are continually
replaced throughout the animals’ lives. The teeth are sometimes called
“marching molars” because they erupt at the back of the jaw and move
slowly forward. As old molars fall out at the front of the jaw, new
molars replace them. Scientists believe this is an evolutionary
adaptation to a coarse diet of seagrass often mixed with sand.
Do manatees need fresh water to
It is unknown whether fresh water is essential for manatees’ survival,
but they do like it. Manatees can be found in rivers and springs as well
as congregating at fresh water drainage pipes. Some people attract
manatees to their docks by letting them drink water from ordinary garden
hoses. This is illegal and endangers the mammals because it brings them
to areas of high boat traffic.
How big are manatees?
The average Florida manatee is about 10 feet long and weighs close to
1,200 pounds. Manatees can reach up to 13 feet in length and weigh 3,500
pounds. Female manatees tend to be larger than the males. Their calves
weigh around 66 pounds and are 4 feet long.
How long do manatees live?
Manatees in captivity have been known to live for more than 50 years.
Distinctly scarred individuals have been known to live for at least 39
years. Dead animals are aged from microscopic examination of growth
layer groups (annual layers, similar to the growth rings in trees) in
their ear bones.
How many manatees are in Florida
As of 2001, the highest number of manatees counted in a statewide survey
was 3,276. However, this is only the highest count of the number of
manatees in Florida and is not a true estimate of the population.
How many types of manatees exist?
There are three species of manatees in the world. The West Indian
manatee ranges along the coasts and inland waters of the southeastern
United States, eastern Mexico, the Greater Antilles, and Central America
to as far as northern Brazil. It is comprised of two subspecies: the
native Florida manatee is found throughout Florida and neighboring
states, and the Antillean manatee found throughout the rest of the
species' range, including Puerto Rico. The other two species include the
Amazonian manatee, found only in the fresh waters of the Amazon, and the
West African manatee, found in the rivers, estuaries, and coasts of
How often do female manatees give
After reaching sexual maturity at 4-7 years, female manatees give birth
to an average of one calf every two or three years. The calf stays with
its mother for up to 2 ½ years.
What is the range of the manatees?
Manatees are found throughout rivers, springs, and shallow coastal
waters of Florida and nearby states. Manatees have been seen as far west
as Texas and as far north as Virginia. Though they like to stay near
warm waters, adventurous ones such as “Chessie,” a manatee tagged with a
satellite transmitter, was tracked all the way to Chesapeake Bay in
1994. Scientists feared he would not make it back to Florida before the
cold weather approached, so they flew him home by plane. The next
summer, he journeyed to Rhode Island and returned on his own to the Ft.
Lauderdale area. In 1996, he headed north again, losing his transmitter
in North Carolina.
What state and federal laws have
been enacted to protect manatees?
They are protected under two federal laws: the US Endangered Species Act
of 1973 lists manatees as endangered; they are also protected under the
US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. In response to mounting
evidence of the negative effects that boats have upon manatees, the
state legislature also passed the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act in 1978,
allowing the state to establish and enforce boating restrictions in
important manatee habitats. The responsibility for administering the law
now lies with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
How much do manatees eat?
Manatees, feeding between 6 and 8 hours daily, consume about 4 to 9% of
their body weight in wet vegetation such as seagrass and other aquatic
How fast are manatees?
Tracking studies have shown that manatees can travel up to 50 miles or
80 km in a day. Manatees generally swim slowly but have been clocked at
speeds up to 15 mph (25 km/hr) for short bursts.
How long can manatees stay
underwater without breathing?
While time varies with the animals’ level of activity, manatees surface
to breathe about every four minutes. When resting, they can stay
underwater up to 20 minutes before surfacing for air.
Manatee season begins
November 15. The Coast Guard and the Florida Fish & Wildlife
reminds everyone to obey the posted manatee regulatory zones.
Failure to obey the posted zones could result in fines up to $150
Federal and /or $50 State. Learn to recognize prime manatee habitat, as
it is illegal to harass, hunt or kill any marine mammal. You can obtain
a Palm Beach County Boating Safety and Manatee Protection Zone brochure
showing the zoned areas from Jupiter Sound south to Boca Raton at your
manatees seem drawn to power plants?
During the cooler months, warm water
discharge from power plants and other industries attracts the manatees
because they can’t survive extended exposure to cold water. When the
surrounding water temperature drops below 68° F or 20° C, they move to
warmer waters, including southern Florida, power plants, and natural
warm water springs. Historically, the manatee population was
concentrated around South Florida during the winter months, but the
power plants on coastal and inland waterways have made it possible for
them to survive winter in northern Florida if they have access to a warm
What threatens manatee
- Habitat Loss–Coastal development and
pollution can seriously harm manatee habitats by affecting their
main food source, seagrass.
- Watercraft–Collisions with boat
hulls and propellers have caused approximately one quarter of all
manatee deaths since 1974 (when record keeping began). Manatees feed
on seagrass beds in shallow water where there is little time or room
to dive to the bottom to avoid oncoming boats. Death may result from
propeller wounds, impact, crushing, or any combination of the three.
- Entanglement–Discarded crab traps
and fishing gear cause problems for many marine species, including
manatees. Manatees can also ingest harmful debris.
- Canal Locks and Flood Gates–Manatees
are sometimes crushed in gates or killed by asphyxiation.
- Poaching–Historically, manatees have
been hunted for their meat, hide, bones and fat by Native Americans
and European settlers. Manatees were in high demand in the late
1800s. Hunting is now rarely a problem.
- Natural Causes–Manatee deaths can
result from things like sudden freezes, non-infectious diseases,
birth complications, natural accidents, red tide (such as the one in
March and April of 1996), and other natural catastrophes.
Put Manatees Back on the Road to
By purchasing a "Save the Manatee"
license plate you are making a significant contribution to manatees.
When it is time to renew your license
plate, or even before, choose the "Save The Manatee"* license plate.
Your contribution will enhance and maintain the state's efforts to
recover this species. If you care, let it show. Purchase a "Save the
Manatee" license plate at your local auto tag office. Ask them for
information regarding the costs. Display it with pride.
Your contribution helps fund:
- The rescue and rehabilitation of
sick or injured manatee
- The establishment of manatee refuges
and safe areas
- Research on manatee ecology and
- Manatee research to determine the
cause of death
- Manatee protection plan development
in critical counties
- Sign posting on Florida's waterways
- Educational materials (distributed
- Protection of seagrass and manatee
Funds raised from sales of the "Save
the Manatee" license plate support the state of Florida's manatee
research and protection programs.
Saving The Manatee
Save the Manatee Club, Inc.
500 N. Maitland Ave
Maitland, FL 33751
Some text and images on this page were
provided by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the
Florida Marine Research Institute.