The Florida manatee is a subspecies of West Indian manatee that has been designated as the state’s official marine mammal. Found throughout peninsular Florida, these gentle, slow-moving giants make their home in calm rivers, estuaries and bays, and move to warmer waters in the winter.
Manatees in Florida are currently threatened by algae blooms that are destroying their food sources and vessel collisions that cause many injuries and deaths every year. State and federal laws have been put in place to try to protect the manatees.
Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act. It is illegal to feed, harass, hunt, pursue, harm or kill a manatee. Any act that alters the manatee’s natural behavior is considered to be harassment.
Those who violate state laws protecting manatees face fines of up to $500 and/or imprisonment of up to 60 days, while those who violate federal protection laws face fines of up to $100,000 and/or 1 year in prison.
The state of Florida has established manatee protection zones in areas where manatees are known to live or travel. In these zones, vessels may be required to travel at slower speeds, certain activities may be restricted, or boating may be prohibited altogether.
Vessel collisions are the leading cause of human-related manatee deaths in Florida. Manatees aren’t easy to see from the surface of the water, particularly when travelling by boat. The animals are not always able to detect boats approaching, and even when they do, it can be difficult for them to get out of the way in time.
When boating on Florida’s waterways, there are steps you can take to protect manatees:
You will not be prosecuted if you accidentally collide with a manatee while boating at a legal speed. The most important thing is to report the boating accident immediately, since timely rescue efforts may save the manatee’s life.
If you come across an entangled manatee, do not attempt to free it by yourself. There are professional biologists who are trained to do so without further injuring the animal. Call the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline to report accidental collisions, entangled, injured or dead manatees, orphaned calves or harassment.
When operating a vessel, it’s important to act in a way that respects and protects marine wildlife, the environment and other boaters. Florida’s boating laws are in place to help ensure that boaters meet their obligations and everyone stays safe on the water.
Drive a Boat USA offers a state-approved US boat safety course that teaches boaters everything they need to know to operate a vessel responsibly. Study with us to obtain your Florida boater education identification card!