The annual migration of Florida manatees to warmer waters begins in November, which is Manatee Awareness Month.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) encourages boaters to help protect migrating manatees by looking out and slowing down for these aquatic mammals that often rest or congregate underwater and can be difficult to see.
“During Manatee Awareness Month, the FWC encourages the public to celebrate manatees by learning more about these gentle giants, including the importance of people’s actions in conserving this iconic Florida species,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s Imperiled Species Management section leader.
“Boaters slowing down and watching out for manatees can help protect this species from injury. Anyone who spots a manatee that is injured, entangled in fishing line or otherwise in distress can help initiate a rescue by calling the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922,” Knox said.
Ontheir annual trek, manatees, including mothers and their calves, swim along Florida’s many rivers, bays and coastal areas in search of the warmer, more stable temperatures found in freshwater springs, man-made canals and power plant outflows. Unlike dolphins and other marine mammals, manatees do not have true blubber to insulate them from waters below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so they must find warmer waters during their migration to survive the winter cold.
Despite their size, with adults weighing 1,000 pounds on average, manatees can be difficult to spot. That is why it is important for boaters in Florida, including those using personal watercraft, to slow down to prevent collisions with manatees, particularly in shallow areas or posted manatee protection zones. On Nov. 15, many seasonal manatee protection zones around the state go into effect. For manatee protection zones by county, includingthe seasonal changes, go to MyFWC.com/Manatee, and click on “Data and Maps.”
Tips on how to spot manatees:
Wear polarized sunglasses when boating.
Look for circular patterns on the water’s surface – the so-called “manatee footprints” that indicate a manatee’s presence below.
Be careful when boating near shallow seagrass beds, where manatees like to graze.
Watch for posted signs indicating manatee protection zones and appropriate boating speeds.
Find out about great places in winter to watch manatees by going to MyFWC.com/Manatee and clicking on “Where Can I See Manatees in Florida?”
People can support the FWC’s manatee research, rescue, rehabilitation and management efforts by purchasing the “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.”
Learn more about manatees at MyFWC.com/Manatee, where you can find “A boater’s guide to Florida manatees” and other information.