Anyone who takes a boat trip, or goes fishing in the rivers of Florida will be used to seeing manatees. They like calm, warmer water with lots of food available to munch on. As they swim along (if they are near the surface) they leave a trail on top of the water that looks like big, wide bubbles. Although they can stay underwater for long periods of time, they must eventually come up for air.
Where to Find Manatees
If you can’t get out on a boat there are other ways to view manatees. Recently I wrote about our boat trip down the St. John’s River and our stop at Blue Springs. In winter in Florida (yes, we do have winter) the water gets cold and manatees flock to the Springs (and other places) to stay warm. They are very susceptible to the cold and must find warm water to survive. Power plant runoffs are another place manatees will congregate for warmth.
They will do this any time from November to March, depending on the weather.
Florida manatees live in both salt water and fresh water. They are called the “gentle giants” because they bother no one. I’ve noticed that manatees seem to be curious of people. When we’ve been on islands along the Indian River, they have come up to the island as if to inspect us!
Often manatees will have scars on them from encounters with boat propellors.
The short video below is of another manatee at the same boat ramp.
At the Haulover Canal, in Titusville, there is a manatee viewing area. Just across the road is the Bair’s Cove boat ramp where I’ve seen many manatees. Unfortunately the long dock at the ramp is closed for repair, so currently it’s not the best place to visit. But one time we got a video of the manatees playing.
People Are The Biggest Danger
With the massive influx of people who want to live and vacation in Florida, the manatee now has to share it’s waterways with boaters. And that makes for a dangerous combination.
A Beer Brewer Features the Manatee
There is a local brewing company that makes beer called “Mad Manatee”. The beer can features a manatee image with an anchor on one flipper and scars on the other. He is holding a boat propellor with one red blade.
Boats are the leading cause of death and injury to the manatee and there are many, many boats in Florida. I imagine that might make the manatees mad.
Whether boating on the ICW or an inland river like the St. Johns, there are signs cautioning “slow speed” and “idle speed”. Usually this is because of manatees which are known to frequent the area.
When boaters slow down, manatees can hear boats coming and get out of the way. They are slow moving and need time to move. Also boaters have time to spot them and avoid collisions. When we are out on our fishing boat we are always on the lookout for signs of manatees in the water, wether we are going slow or fast. In fact manatees seem to have figured out that staying near the shore is safer. We spotted this group huddled near the shore on the Haulover Canal.
Another danger to the manatee is Red Tide, which is an algae bloom. It harms lots of marine life and killed a huge number of manatees in 2013.
Then there are the ignorant people who bother them (there are heavy fines and possibly jail time) to get a photo or video. Read about what to do if you encounter a manatee in the wild.
My Manatee Close Encounter Story
One day, years ago, my family took a ride in our pontoon boat on the Indian River and ended up stopping at an island. As we were cooling off in the water, one of the kids with us swam out a ways. Suddenly he yelled and said something had bumped him, and he wildly swam back to shore. It was a manatee, and this manatee followed him in to where we were standing! It proceeded to come right up to us, then it swam out and made a big circle and came back to us again! We were not feeding it or doing anything to entice it to us (don’t, it’s illegal). In fact we were being a bit loud, but he didn’t seem to care. He did this over and over and would turn on his side as he passed us, like he was showing off. After many such circles he simply swam off.
Pick Up Your Trash
Pollution is dangerous (manatees will sometimes eat things they shouldn’t) and discarded fishing lines and crab pots can tangle in the manatees flippers.
Can anyone tell me why people can’t throw trash away properly? It’s not that difficult.
A Record of Rising Deaths
Hundreds of manatees die every year in Florida. In 1979 when I first moved here, a total of 77 manatees died in the state. In 2016 that number was 520 deaths. View the stats, which begin in the year 1974, by county and year at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. However, in 2017 the manatee was considered threatened (up a step from endangered) with a population of 6,600 in the state.
Florida Manatee Facts
The Florida manatee is a sub-species of the West Indian Manatee.
All manatees live in tropical and sub-tropical waters. They need warm water to live.
They must eat for many hours a day, and they eat mainly vegetation growing in the waterways. Often they are called “sea cows”.
Usually only a single calf is born, and stays with it’s mother for up to two years. This is mainly to figure out travel routes and where to find warmth in winter.
Manatees live to be 50-60 years old, if they are lucky.
Federal laws protect the manatees in Florida and carry heavy fines when broken.
These facts came from the SeaWorld site where you will find more fun facts and useful information. Sea World is authorized to rescue and rehabilitate injured and sick manatees.
The Dugong is a Similar Creature
The Dugong is similar to the Manatee, but does not live near Florida. A reader of this blog from Australia (one of the places where dugongs live) sent me this link to a pretty good article about the differences between Manatees and Dugongs.