Florida Manatees

Manatees in Three Sisters Springs
Image credit: threesistersspringsvisitor.org

The Florida Manatee (West Indian Manatee / Trichechus manatus), also known as the Sea Cow, are large aquatic mammals that are slow-moving and gentle. They are found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, saltwater bays, canals, and coastal areas.

Manatees are typically 10 feet weighing over 1000 pounds as adults, but can grow to over 13 feet and more than 3,500 pounds. Their bodies are large, similar to a seal, but with a spatula-shaped flat tail (fluke) and two paddle shaped forelimbs (flippers). The manatee is typically gray or brownish gray with wrinkly skin, small eyes and a snout that you can see peeking above the surface when they come up for air. Because they are mammals and breathe air, they surface every 3-5 minutes, but can stay submerged for more than 20 minutes when resting. 

These Florida native gentle giants are mostly herbivorous and graze on seagrass and other aquatic vegetation. They have no biting teeth, only molars that grind their food. They can consume up to 15% of their body weight in their daily diet. While they move through the water slowly grazing most of the time, they can swim up to 20mph in short bursts. 

Manatees have a gestation period of approximately 13 months and the female manatees (cows) give birth to one calf. The calf stays close to the mother until it reaches maturity in 2-5 years. Cows can give birth every two and a half years so mothers can have more than one calf following it around, a larger and smaller one. 

Viewing Manatees in Florida

Manatees need warm waters to survive which is why they inhabit the waterways around Florida and why they huddle into warmer areas in the winter months. If you want to be sure to spot a manatee, the wintertime is the best time to head out to their favorite warmer water locations. 

Florida Manatee Season

Manatee season in Florida starts October 15 to November 15 (depending on where you are in Florida) and continues through March 31st as manatees seek the warmer waters the Sunshine state offers. Some Manatees are here year round, but they scatter out and are not as easy to spot during the summer months. If you want to be sure to see them, the winter months are the time to head out to their favorite warm spots where most often, you will see plenty of Manatees grouping together.

Manatees are Endangered and Protected

West Indian Manatees are classified as Endangered Species and are protected in the U.S. under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. Manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. 

Interacting with Manatees in Florida

Florida Manatee

Manatees are gentle giants who are peaceful and calm. Because they are protected by state and federal law, please follow these guidelines when viewing and/or interacting with Manatees.

  • Look but don't touch.
  • Do not harass or disturb them in any way that will alter their natural behavior.
  • Do not pursue them if you see them when in the water when swimming or diving. Passively observe. 
  • Avoid excessive noise and splashing. 

When boating in areas where manatees are present, remember that manatees have to surface to breathe and can be and injured from boats propellers. Follow the speed zone signs and be on the lookout and help protect our manatees. See A boater's guide to living Florida Manatees for more information.

Crystal River is one place in Florida where you can not only view the Manatees, but you can swim with them! Click here for more details and the 12 Best Natural Places to interact and view manatees

 

 

 

Situated along St. John's River, there's quite a few treasures at Blue Spring State Park. Swimming, diving, snorkeling, and tubing are just a few of the water activities that can be done at Blue Spring State Park. What makes this state park so unique, though, is the ability to see some manatees in their natural habitat. Before the park was established in 1970, researchers found there was only a small number of the sea cows, less than 20. But after 2018 and careful protection efforts, there are now around 485 gentle sea creatures that call Blue Spring their home. Guests can also canoe or kayak, renting these at the park if they wish, or they can take a guided river boat cruise if walking 4.5 miles on Pine Island Trail seems a bit daunting. Bring a picnic and enjoy the day at Blue Spring State Park. 

At Manatee Lagoon, located in South Florida, manatee season starts November 15th. The center is dedicated to educating the public about manatees and Lake Worth Lagoon with hands on activities, art classes, exhibits and observation areas to view the Florida Manatees in their natural habitat. 

Manatee Lake Worth Lagoon West Palm Beach

The Manatee Observation and Education Center is a waterfront environmental education and wildlife viewing center located on Florida's east coast in beautiful downtown Fort Pierce. Offering education programs to teach and educate about our beloved Manatees with hands-on exhibits, events, an observation walkway and tower and boat tours.

 

Manatee Observation and Education Center

Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center includes an environmental education center, a habitat loop trail and a wildlife observation tower. This 50 foot high tower offers amazing views across Tampa Bay and is the perfect place to view the manatees in their natural habitat. 

Manatee Season in Florida
Florida Manatees 12 Best Natural Places for Viewing in the Winter Season
Want to see the famous Florida Sea Cow? We've got the best tips for when, where and how to see and interact with these gentle giants
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