Manatee Watch

manatee by NOAA National Ocean Service

Photo by NOAA National Ocean Service

Anna Maria Island includes several areas where manatees graze seagrass beds and pass through boat channels and canals. On the Gulf beach, in 2011, a herd of 13 manatee congregated and had to be patrolled by Police to keep onlookers from endangering themselves and the animals.

Finding and viewing manatees in the wild is a rare occurrence but Bradenton has one, named “Snooty”, at the South Florida Museum. He was born in 1948 and is the oldest manatee in captivity. You can see “Snooty” at the Parker Manatee Aquarium, 201 10th St W., Bradenton.

Mote Marine Lab has two manatees, and numerous other aquatic wildlife, at their research facility Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, at City Island off Lido Key.


Manatees are aquatic mammals, with an average size of about 13 feet long and 1300 lbs weight. They spend half their day asleep, surfacing for air about every 20 minutes. They graze the rest of the time in 3 to 6 feet waters above 68F. In winter they congregate near power plant warm water outflows and frequently migrate through brackish water estuaries to freshwater springs. They live for about 60 years, have slow reproduction, issuing a 66lb baby calf after 12 month’s gestation, then taking 12-18 months to wean.

Related to elephants, Atlantic manatees use fresh water to some extent, whereas the similar Dugong is strictly marine seawater in the Pacific and Indian Ocean. Its closest modern relative, Steller’s sea cow, was hunted to extinction within 30 years of its discovery in the 18th century, killed for its meat, oil, and skin.

With no incisor or canine teeth to bite, manatees have 6 molar-like cheek teeth for chewing that are continuously replaced, which is unique to this mammal. Using its prehensile upper lip like an elephant’s trunk, manatees eat over 60 different plant species including mangroves, sea grass, and algae in shallow depths where underwater photosynthesis occurs. Seagrasses are especially important food supply, as well as for small fish shelter, carbon sequestration, oxygen production, sedimentation aid, and seabed stabilization.
To learn more about seagrass click here:  http://www.dep.state.fl.us/coastal/habitats/seagrass/issues.htm

Fossil remains date back 45 million years. Florida manatee populations are vaguely estimated to be from 1500 to 2500. Adult survival rates low and extinction will be a probable outcome without protection from habitat destruction, watercraft impacts and propeller strikes.

Watercraft-related incidents in 2009 caused the death of 97 manatees, the highest number on record. In 2011, 88 manatees were killed in collisions with boats over the course of the year, not including those seriously injured, unreported, or died of ingesting fishing tackle. Scientists believe that unless the death rate is reduced then the manatee population will not recover.

Manatee injured by propeller strike

Manatee injured by propeller strike

When boating, pay attention to channel markers and obey regulatory signs.

Most parts of Anna Maria Island and many surrounding areas are slow speed zones.

Manatee protection zones, Manatee County

Manatee protection slow speed zones. Click image for complete pdf document.

Federal and State laws protect mammals and manatees:

  • It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal
  • It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass or disturb any manatee.

Violations incur fines of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison. The state of Florida can pursue prosecution under federal law in circumstances of extreme harassment, resulting in the death or injury of a manatee.

If you see a manatee:

  • Don’t feed manatees or give them water. If manatees become accustomed to being around people, it can alter their behavior in the wild, perhaps causing them to lose their natural fear of boats and humans, and this may make them more susceptible to harm. Passive observation is the best way to interact with manatees and all wildlife.
  • Do not pursue or chase a manatee while you are swimming, snorkeling, diving or operating a boat.
  • If a manatee avoids you, you should avoid it.
  • Don’t isolate or single out an individual manatee from its group, and don’t separate a cow from her calf.

Look but don’t touch

  • Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
  • Don’t attempt to touch, stroke, hold, grab, snag, pinch or ride a manatee.

When in the water

  • Slow to idle speed while in areas known to have manatees present or when observations indicate manatees might be present. Observations may include
    • a swirl at the surface caused by the manatee while diving
    • seeing the animal’s back, snout, tail, or flipper break the surface of the water or
    • hearing it when it surfaces to breathe.
  • Avoid excessive noise and splashing if a manatee appears in your swimming area.
  • Do not use scuba when near manatees. The sound of bubbles from scuba gear may cause additional stress.
  • When snorkeling, do not wear a weight belt. Float at the surface of the water and passively observe the manatee.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water. This will enable you to see manatees more easily.
  • Try to stay in deep water channels. Manatees can be found in shallow estuaries, coastal areas, canals, bayous, lagoons, and slow moving rivers.
  • Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Propeller contact and PWC water-jets defoliate seagrass meadows.
  • Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat. Do not operate a boat near groups of manatees.
  • If you like to water ski, choose areas that manatees do not use, or landlocked lakes where they cannot enter.
  • Do not discard mono-filament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees may ingest or become entangled in the debris and become injured or even die. Note: Discarding mono-filament fishing line into the waters of Florida is unlawful.

For more information about protecting manatees go to savethemanatee.org

If you come across an injured, dead, sick or tagged manatee, call FWC Wildlife Alert 1-888-404-3922 Cellular phone customers can use *FWC or #FWC

Be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is the exact location of the animal?
  • Is the manatee alive or dead?
  • How long have you been observing the manatee?
  • What is the approximate size of the manatee?
  • What is the location of the public boat ramp closest to the manatee?
  • Can you provide a contact number where you can be reached for further information?
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  1. Pingback: Collecting Sand Dollars on Anna Maria Island

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