The Florida manatee, Florida’s state marine mammal, is a large aquatic relative of the elephant.

Manatees are grayish brown in color and have thick, wrinkled skin on which there is often a growth of algae. Their front flippers help them steer, or sometimes crawl, through shallow water. They also have powerful, flat tails that help propel them through the water.

Like other grazing animals, Florida manatees play an important role in influencing plant growth in the shallow rivers, bays, estuaries, canals and coastal waters they call home. Historically, manatees in Florida relied on natural springs to stay warm during cold weather.

Florida has the largest concentration of natural artesian springs in the world; unfortunately, many springs have been altered, degraded and even lost completely due to groundwater pumping for urban and agricultural development. At the same time, we’ve built electric power plants and other structures that produce artificial sources of warm water, and many manatees have learned to rely on these outflows to provide warm water habitat. Whether natural or man-made, manatees depend on warm waters to spend the coldest days of winter. 

Defenders' Impact

In the late 1990s, Defenders was a lead plaintiff in federal lawsuits against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission claiming inadequate protections for Florida manatees. The outcome was a landmark settlement in 2000 that resulted in many additional protections for manatees. 

Defenders advocates for protecting and restoring natural springs and conserving marine and freshwater habitat for manatees. Defenders continues to advocate for manatee protection speed zones to reduce manatees’ chances of being hit by speeding boats and provides outreach and education about coexisting with manatees.

We continue to focus on improving protections for manatee habitats, such as in Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and Kings Bay. We work with government agencies, power companies and other organizations to create a plan to transition manatees away from depending on artificial sources of warm water. 

Threats

Manatees continue to face many threats, including collisions with boats, habitat loss and degradation, fishing gear entanglement, human harassment, red tide and other algal blooms, and climate change. The greatest long-term threat is the loss of warm water habitat.

Protection Status
Endangered Species Act
IUCN Red List
CITES
 Threatened
 Vulnerable
 Appendix I
What You Can Do

Manatees are sensitive to human harassment and may leave their vitally important warm-water springs as a result. Obey viewing guidelines and never feed, water or harass manatees by interacting with or touching them. Obey boating speed limits and no-wake zones and watch out for manatees while boating. Report manatee deaths, injuries, harassment, accidents or orphaned manatees to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Wildlife Alert number: 1-888-404-3922.

Facts
Latin Name
Trichechus manatus latirostris
Size
10 -12 feet long and 1,500 – 1,800 pounds
Lifespan
50 -60 years
Range/Habitat

Manatees are found in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters. Manatees cannot tolerate waters below 68° F for extended periods, since cold water can stun and even kill them. Manatees take up residence primarily in Florida’s coastal waters during winter. They disperse in summer, with more and more manatees spending time in other southeastern states; some individuals have migrated as far north as Massachusetts and as far west as Texas in summer.

Population

Today’s population estimate is around 8,800 animals. 

Reproduction

Calves are born weighing between 60 and 70 pounds and measuring about 3-4 feet long. They nurse underwater.
Mating season: no specific period
Gestation: about 1 year
Number of offspring: 1 calf

Diet

Manatees are herbivores; their diet consists mostly of sea grasses and freshwater vegetation.

adopt a manatee

Your adoption supports our wide range of marine conservation work - from advocating for slow-speed zones to reduce manatee collisions with boats, to fighting for the establishment of protected areas where manatees spend the winter.

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News

Washington, DC

Lawsuit Challenges Trump Administration Attack on Endangered Species Act

Environmental and animal protection groups today sued the Trump administration over its new regulations that dramatically weaken the Endangered Species Act. Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians, and the Humane Society of the United States.

Read More About the Florida Manatee