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Manatees Migrating to Warmer Waters

With manatees moving to warmer waters as the temperature dips in Florida, boaters are reminded to take extra precautions to protect them.

Now that the weather outside is chilly, Florida manatees are migrating to warmer waters. They swim in search of a warm winter refuge such as freshwater springs or canals adjacent to power plant outflows.

An adult manatee may weigh 1,000 pounds or more but is susceptible to cold. Water temperatures dipping to 68 degrees or below can produce cold stress in these aquatic mammals, and even cause death.

On Nov. 15, seasonal manatee protection zone went into effect. 

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has provided boating safety tips below to protect manatees. 

November is designated as Manatee Awareness Month because of this seasonal migration. As authorities said earlier this year, you should probably try to avoid riding the manatees. 

“Many manatees in Florida have scars from run-ins with boats. We can do our part to help by complying with slow-speed and no-entry zones that indicate manatees may be in the area,” said Kipp Frohlich, who leads the FWC’s imperiled species management section, in a news release. “Boaters should slow down where manatees like to congregate, such as seagrass beds and warm-water sites.”

Due to cold waters and encounters with boaters, it was a deadly year for manatees in 2011. 

Biologists with the research arm of the Conservation Commission documented 453 dead manatee carcasses in state waters in 2011. The total number of reported manatee deaths in 2011 was the second highest on record. Biologists documented a record 766 manatee deaths in 2010 and recorded the third-highest total of 429 in 2009, according to the conservation commission.

How to spot Florida’s official marine mammal?

Boaters and personal watercraft operators should scan the water near or in front of their vessels and look for signs that manatees are close by, including repetitive swirl patterns called a manatee footprint, a mud trail, or a snout or fluke (tail) breaking the water’s surface.

Here are some other steps boaters and personal watercraft operators can take to help manatees migrate safely:

  • Keep vessels in marked channels;
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to improve your vision;
  • Obey posted boat speed zones;
  • Use poles, paddles or trolling motors when close to manatees;
  • Have someone help scan the water when under way.

Besides following manatee-safety recommendations, people can help manatees survive by reporting sick, distressed, injured, orphaned or entangled manatees to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

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