5 “Manatee Manners” To Follow This Winter

Watching manatees from a boardwalk or viewing platform is a great way to see their natural behavior and avoid disturbing them.
Watching manatees from a boardwalk or viewing platform is a great way to see their natural behavior and avoid disturbing them.

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Winter is a wonderful time to view manatees all around Florida. Manatees go from being widely dispersed throughout Florida’s waterways to clustering in large groups in vitally important warm-water refuge areas. These unique marine mammals have relatively little body fat despite their size, so prolonged exposure to water temperatures below 68°F (20°C) can cause manatees to suffer from a life-threatening condition known as cold stress.

While spending time in Florida’s mild winter weather, please keep the following manatee manners in mind as you enjoy viewing manatees at warm-water refuges like Blue Spring State Park, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, and other springs. Following these guidelines helps to safeguard this protected species while allowing you to enjoy observing their natural behavior.

Manatee Manner #1: Practice passive observation from a distance.
Viewing manatees from a distance is the best practice for the manatee’s health and safety. This includes the practice of passive observation or quietly observing manatees from above water. Watching manatees from a boardwalk or viewing platform is a great way to see their natural behavior and avoid disturbing them. This is especially crucial in designated manatee sanctuaries where disturbances could cause them to leave a warm water area or enter nearby vessel traffic. Additionally, passive observation means never touching, approaching, or chasing manatees. Any of these actions are considered harassment, which is against the law.

Manatee Manner #2: Don’t give food or water to manatees.
Wild animals should never be fed by people, and manatees are no different. While manatees are not aggressive, feeding them or giving them fresh water could cause them to change their natural feeding behavior. It’s not healthy for them to eat items that are not part of their natural diet. And if manatees become accustomed to receiving rewards from humans, they could associate any human with reward and approach a boat or put themselves in dangerous situations. Wild manatees can find plenty of food and fresh water sources on their own.

Manatee Manner #3: Be aware while boating and kayaking.
Keep your eyes peeled for manatees while boating or kayaking by wearing polarized sunglasses and scanning for manatee snouts, tails, and backs. Look for manatee “footprints,” which look like circular wave patterns on the water’s surface created by the manatee’s tail. In your motorboat, slow down in manatee habitat, and if you spot a manatee close by, cut your motor. While paddling, observe manatees from a distance of at least two kayak lengths, and don’t paddle over manatees. And don’t forget to stash your trash, especially fishing line or hooks that could injure or entangle manatees. For more information on manatee-safe boating, visit Save the Manatee Club’s Free Boater Resources page.

Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers to learn essential survival skills. They could ultimately die if they are separated from their mothers.

Manatee Manner #4: Look, but don’t touch while swimming and diving.
If you see manatees while swimming, snorkeling, or diving, do not touch or approach them; just practice passive observation. It is especially important to avoid getting between a mother and calf if you are in the water with manatees. Curious calves may seem like pets, but they are wild animals that are dependent on their mothers to learn essential survival skills. They could ultimately die if they are separated from their mothers. Get more information for swimmers and divers.

Manatee Manner #5: Ask your guide questions when choosing a manatee-viewing tour.
Going on a tour is a fun way to learn about manatees from an experienced guide. When choosing a tour, ask your guide if they practice passive observation or maintain minimum distances around the manatees. If they are unsure, they may not be following manatee viewing best practices. With so many tour options available, you may also consider asking your tour operator if they vary tour times or limit participants to avoid crowding and disturbing manatees while still providing a safe, quality experience. The experience and education your tour operator delivers are important components of manatee conservation. Ecotourism operators can also get information on how to qualify for the Guardian Guides program.

“After having spent more than 50 years studying imperiled manatees from under, on, and over the water, I would implore everyone who has the manatee’s best interest at heart to love them enough to resist the urge to touch, feed, or give manatees water,” explains Patrick Rose, Aquatic Biologist and Save the Manatee Club’s Executive Director.

For more information about manatees, visit If you see a sick, stranded, injured, orphaned, or dead manatee, or a manatee that is being harassed, you should immediately call the Wildlife Alert number 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), send an email or text to, or use VHF Channel 16.

Watch Videos:
If You See a Manatee, Be Cool
Responsible Paddling With Manatees
Please Don’t Feed or Give Manatees Water


Save the Manatee Club, established in 1981 by the late renowned singer-songwriter, author, and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett, along with late former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham, is dedicated to safeguarding manatees and preserving their aquatic habitat. For more information about manatees and the Club’s efforts, visit or call 1-800-432-JOIN (5646).

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