If you see a manatee that is being harassed, or encounter a dead, injured, tagged, or orphaned manatee calf, please immediately report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by calling 1-888-404-3922. Outside of Florida, please make a report with your local wildlife agency or stranding network.

Despite their docile appearance, it is important to recognize that manatees are wild animals. Any contact with humans—even those who are well-intentioned—could injure them or alter their natural behavior. This is manatee harassment, and it is punishable by law.

What is harassment?

Harassment is any action that could cause harm to a manatee or alter its natural behavior. There are two types of harassment. Drastic harassment is a one-time, major event like riding a manatee or separating a mother and calf, which can injure or otherwise cause harm. Cumulative harassment occurs over time, as when repeated disturbances (such as those by large and/or frequent “swim with the manatees” tour groups) cause a resting manatee to move repeatedly to avoid human contact. This can cause a manatee to use excess energy or even to leave a particular area altogether.

Some examples of harassment include:

  • Giving food or water to manatees, or using food or water to attract manatees
  • Disturbing resting manatees
  • Hitting, jumping on, standing on, holding on to, or attempting to ride a manatee
  • Separating a mother and calf
  • Disturbing manatee mating herds
  • Pursuing or chasing manatees either while swimming or while in a vessel
  • Blocking a manatee’s path
  • Fishing for or attempting to hook or catch a manatee
Two snorkelers touching a manatee that is within sanctuary boundaries.
Snorkelers approach and touch a manatee in a designated sanctuary. This is one example of manatee harassment.

It's The Law

Manatees are protected under federal law by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. These laws make it illegal to harass, harm, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. Manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which defines harassment as “any intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of causing an injury to a manatee by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, breeding, feeding or sheltering.” Penalties for first-time violations of these laws can include fines of up to $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days.

Examples of incidents of manatee harassment that have led to arrest include:

  • Picking a manatee calf up out of the water[i]
  • Riding a manatee in shallow water[ii]
  • Splashing water on a herd of mating manatees[iii]
  • Spraying manatees with a hose and jumping on them[iv]
  • Trying to “catch” a manatee with a fishing hook, using grass and leaves as bait[v]
A photo of a manatee being given water with a red "No" symbol on the photo.
A manatee drinks water from a hose. Manatees get necessary fresh water from the plants they eat. Providing food or water to wild manatees is considered harassment, and it is against the law.

How To Mind Your Manatee Manners

Please follow these guidelines anytime you encounter wild manatees:

  • Look but don’t touch. Practice “passive observation” and observe manatees from above water and at a distance
  • Do not feed manatees or give them water
  • Avoid excess noise and splashing
  • Do not chase or block the path of traveling manatees
  • Never separate a mother and calf
  • Do not enter designated manatee sanctuaries for any reason
  • When paddling, stay two kayak lengths away from a manatee
  • When encountering a manatee while in the water, stay one human body length away
A photo showing a congregation of manatees in the protected sanctuary of Three Sisters Springs while several snorkelers and a kayaker are just outside the border of the refuge.
Snorkelers and a paddler approach manatees seeking sanctuary in Crystal River, FL. Humans should not enter designated manatee sanctuaries for any reason.

Watch Educational Videos

What To Do If You See A Manatee Being Harassed

REPORT: If you see a manatee that is being harassed, or encounter photo or videos online that show manatee harassment, please immediately report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by calling 1-800-404-FWCC (3922). Outside of Florida, please make a report with your local wildlife agency or stranding network.

DOCUMENT: Many individuals who have faced legal consequences for harassing manatees have been arrested after video or photo evidence was provided by onlookers or discovered online. If you see someone harassing a manatee and it is safe to do so, document the activity by taking photos or video.

A drone photo of a boat with three people on it. One of the people is poking a manatee with a fishing rod.
An individual aboard a boat pokes a manatee. Any action that could cause harm to a manatee or alter its natural behavior—such as this one—is harassment, and it is punishable by law.

Manatee Harassment FAQs


[i] “Ryan Waterman, Fla. Man, arrested for allegedly harassing a manatee.” CBS News, 19 Feb. 2013, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ryan-waterman-fla-man-arrested-for-allegedly-harassing-a-manatee/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[ii] “Woman who rode manatee at Fort De Soto turns herself in.” Tampa Bay Times, 2 Oct. 2012, https://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/woman-who-rode-manatee-at-fort-de-soto-turns-herself-in/1254405/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[iii] Suarez Sang, Lucia I. “Florida man splashes water at manatees, lands in jail.” Fox News, 1 May 2018. https://www.foxnews.com/us/florida-man-splashes-water-at-manatees-lands-in-jail. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[iv] Joseph, Chris. “Florida men who cannonballed onto manatees and posted it on YouTube sentenced.” Broward Palm Beach New Times. 20 Jun. 2014. https://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/florida-men-who-cannonballed-onto-manatees-and-posted-it-on-youtube-sentenced-6464495. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[v] “One day of fishing, 30 days in prison.” Soundings, 6 May 2008. https://www.soundingsonline.com/news/one-day-of-fishing-30-days-in-prison. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.