2019 was a bad year for manatees in Florida. According to preliminary data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, boat strikes have killed 136 manatees. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) estimates that at least two – thirds of all Manatees have at one time experienced a boat strike. This despite years of conservation efforts in Florida to save the manatees by creating “no wake” zones for boaters and increasing awareness.
The Florida manatee, designated the state marine mammal in 1975, is among the state’s most popular native animals. A listed species under the federal Endangered Species Act and state Imperiled Species List, the manatee’s health and survival is threatened not only by boat strikes but also by human-related impacts such as habitat loss, as well as natural events such as cold snaps and red tide.
It is during the spring that manatees leave their winter refuges and are more likely to be found in rivers, canals and nearshore waters. The spring weather also appeals to Florida’s boaters, meaning that they are likely to cross paths with the state’s official marine mammal.
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 watercrafts. FWC law enforcement officers are on patrol in state waters to remind boaters of the seasonal manatee speed zones and take enforcement actions when appropriate.
The FWC says that manatees can be difficult to detect when underwater, so it is important for operators of boats and personal watercrafts to be vigilant while out on the water. They ask us all to help protect manatees by following these simple guidelines:
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.
Report injured, distressed, sick or dead manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or dialing #FWC or *FWC on a cellphone.