The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is sharing the reminder that November is Manatee Awareness Month, a critical time for boaters to be on the lookout for manatees as they travel to warmer water sites around the state.
Manatees need to access water that is warmer than 68 degrees Fahrenheit to survive the winter. As temperatures start to dip in the fall, manatees travel to Florida springs, power plant discharge areas and other warm-water sites to overwinter until temperatures rise again in the spring.
Manatees, though large, can be challenging to see in the water. Boaters and watercraft operators can better spot manatees by wearing polarized glasses, going slow and abiding by all manatee protection zones. During colder months, seasonal manatee zones require boaters and personal watercraft users to reduce speed in or avoid certain areas to prevent collisions that can injure or kill manatees. Manatee protection zones are marked by waterway signs; maps of these zones are available online at MyFWC.com/MPZ.
Boat strikes are a major threat to Florida manatees and FWC law enforcement officers patrol state waters, informing boaters of seasonal manatee speed zones and taking appropriate enforcement actions when necessary. Boaters and personal watercraft users are reminded to comply with the regulatory signs on waterways.
When viewing manatees as they congregate at warm-water sites, it is important to give them space. Disturbing manatees at these sites can cause them to swim out of protected areas and into potentially life-threatening cold water. Manatees are a protected species and it is illegal to harass, feed, disturb or harm them.
If you see an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee, report it to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) so that trained responders can assist. Do not try to physically handle an injured or sick manatee yourself, which can cause more harm to the animal and potentially put you at risk of serious injury.
The FWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to investigate and respond to the manatee Unusual Mortality Event along the Atlantic coast of Florida. The FWC and USFWS take manatee conservation seriously by actively implementing science-based conservation measures that are making a difference for manatees and habitat. Learn more about response efforts by visiting MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Learn More” in the banner at the top of the page.
Educational resources for waterway users and other interested members of the public are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee. The Viewing Guidelines page on this website provides helpful tips on how to respectfully observe manatees, additional guidelines for boat and personal watercraft operators, and information on what you can do to help with manatee conservation.
For those looking to support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue and management efforts, you can purchase a Florida manatee license plate or donate $5 to receive a collectable FWC manatee decal. Both are available from your local Tax Collector’s office.