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The Florida Manatee: Florida's Fascinating State Marine Mammal

December 21, 2022 / marine mammals,

At Dolphins Plus Bayside, we’re committed to the conservation of all walks of marine life. Not only do we offer guests a unique opportunity to swim with dolphins in their natural habitat, but also to learn about Florida’s endangered and threatened species.  

One such species is the Florida manatee, which happens to be the official state marine mammal of Florida. Join us for a look at these fascinating creatures and find out how you can help Dolphins Plus in our efforts to promote manatee conservation!

The Florida Manatee: Fun Facts and Conservation Information

Did you know that the Florida manatee is the marine cousin of the elephant? Occasionally mistaken for walruses and sometimes nicknamed “sea cows,” manatees typically weigh around 1,000 pounds and measure between 9-10 feet long.  

Some of the largest manatees ever recorded have been much larger, growing up to 14 feet long and weighing over 3,000 pounds! 

The Florida manatee usually has gray skin, but often has algae growing on its back, which can make it appear brown or even green. With two front flippers and a flat tail, these friendly, slow-moving creatures can live in both salt and freshwater. 

Manatees can be found in a variety of different water habitats, including coastal waters, rivers, springs, and canals. As winter approaches, they will often seek out warmer waters such as warm springs or even canals surrounding power plants. 

Despite their enormous size, rest assured that manatees are very friendly and survive exclusively on an herbivore diet. This means that they only eat aquatic plants and often spend up to eight hours a day grazing.  

While they may not be the fastest mammals in the water, manatees have plenty of personality! Both playful and easily amused, they can often be found body surfing or pulling off barrel rolls to the delight of onlookers.

 Where to See the Manatee in Florida

While you may get lucky and see a Florida manatee in the wild, it's incredibly important to observe them responsibly. Due to the threatened species status of the Florida manatee, these lovable sea creatures are incredibly well-protected by both state and federal law.  

That’s why it’s important to resist the urge to get too close or disturb a manatee in the wild. Even if a manatee attempts to convince you differently, you must also resist the temptation to share food with them!  

This can not only present health risks but can also encourage them to become overly dependent on humans for food. Luckily, there are still plenty of places to see the Florida manatee in person.  

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) offers an excellent list of places to see manatees both in the wild and in marine rescue/rehabilitation facilities. Don't forget to check out FWC's Manatee safe viewing guidelines before visiting!

One of our favorites is the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, which is in Crystal River, FL. The organization is currently the only wildlife refuge created specifically to allow Florida manatees to thrive and prosper.

How to Help Save the Florida Manatee

Unfortunately, the FWC estimates that there are only around 7,500 Florida manatees left today. The good news is that the vast number of state and federal laws designed to protect the species have boosted their growth in recent years.  

As a result of these efforts, the manatee was moved off the endangered species list in 2017 but is still classified as threatened. Some of the main threats to the Florida manatee include:  

  • Collisions with boats 

  • Entanglement in fishing equipment  

  • Loss of habitat  

  • Pollution 

The good news is that the Florida manatee tends to be an incredibly easy-going creature and therefore has no natural enemies. If humans continue to do our part, it’s possible to ensure that manatees continue to thrive for years to come.  

Here are some ways you can help! 

  • If you come across a distressed, orphaned, or entangled manatee in the wild, be sure to call the Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922. 

  • Help keep manatee habitats clean by clearing any discarded plastic, fishing equipment, or other debris out of marine habitats.  

  • Never remove any tagging equipment you may see on a manatee 

  • Use propeller guards, obey all waterway signs, and stay on the lookout for manatees when boating through shallow waters. 

  • Volunteer with local organizations designed to save the Florida manatee 

  • Donate to charities such as the FWC’s Marine Mammal Fund

Dolphins Plus and Marine Mammal Responder 

As you may have noticed, at Dolphins Plus, we can’t get enough of marine mammals. That’s why we proudly offer firsthand conservation services through Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder

The not-for-profit 501(c)3 facility is staffed by marine experts and veterinarians who serve as first responders in marine mammal emergencies. Whether it be an orphaned Florida manatee or a tangled dolphin, we partner with the FWC to provide marine mammals with assistance when they need it the most.  

Our marine experts have already helped hundreds of dolphins, manatees, and whales in the Florida Keys. We’re fully committed to ensuring the health and conservation of our marine friends and rely on the support of donations by marine lovers like you.  

100% of all tax-deductible donations go straight to helping sick, injured, or distressed marine mammals. Visit our Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder page to donate or learn more about how you can directly help save the Florida manatee and other marine mammals!   

In addition to our rescue efforts, Dolphins Plus is proud to offer world-class education and research programs. It’s also our delight to welcome visitors to Dolphin Plus Bayside, where guests are provided with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to swim with dolphins in their natural habitats.   

We are highly dedicated to ensuring the happiness of our guests and dolphins alike. That’s why we also provide all of our visitors with a fun and informative educational segment about dolphins, marine ecology, and ways to help protect marine ecosystems. 

We provide fun and easy ways to learn more about dolphins and other marine creatures from anywhere! Be sure to Follow Our Dolphins to stay in-the-know on the latest updates and news for our Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. If you want to learn more about the Florida Manatee, we can discuss it during the educational field trips at our natural seawater facility in the Florida Keys.


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