Keep a lookout for manatees in motion this spring

In balmy spring weather, both manatees and boaters are cruising through Florida’s waterways.

For manatees, it is a seasonal ritual when they abandon winter retreats and head north along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and through inland waters. For boaters, it is a critical time to be on the lookout for manatees to avoid colliding with these large, slow-moving aquatic mammals.

From April 1 through Nov. 15, seasonal manatee zones require boaters to slow down in certain areas to prevent manatees from being struck by motorboats or personal watercraft.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officers will be on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take enforcement actions when necessary.

Because manatees are difficult to detect when underwater, operators of boats, including personal watercraft, need to take basic steps to avoid causing injury to manatees:

  • Wear polarized sunglasses to help spot 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.

FWC biologists, managers and law enforcement staff work closely with partners to evaluate current data and identify necessary actions to protect this iconic animal. Florida has invested over $2 million annually for manatee conservation, and the FWC will work toward continued success for manatees in our state.

Manatee zones and maps are available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can select “Protection Zones” for links to county maps.

The FWC also asks anyone who sees an injured, distressed, sick or dead manatee to call the agency’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dial #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.

You can watch manatees without disturbing them by following “Guidelines for protecting native wildlife – Florida Manatees,” a brochure with tips for canoers, kayakers, paddle boarders, snorkelers and scuba divers. It’s available at MyFWC.com/Manatee, click on “Boat, PWC, & Paddle-sport Operators” and then on “Paddle-sport Operators.” Also on MyFWC.com/Manatee is “Where are Florida’s Manatees?” with information about where to go to see manatees in the wild or in captivity.

Support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue and management efforts by purchasing a “Save the Manatee” Florida license plate at BuyaPlate.com, or by donating $5 to receive an FWC manatee decal by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Decals.”