Tampa Bay Estuary Program Tampa Bay Estuary Program



Portrait of the Tampa Bay Estuary - manatees

These gentle, whiskered giants, found in the southeastern United States and in the Caribbean Sea as far south as Brazil, live in Florida year-round. Manatees have a grayish, seal-like body that tapers to a flat, paddle-shaped tail. They grow to an average length of 10 feet and can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds as adults.

Manatees make their home in shallow coastal waters, bays, and springs. Local sightings are more common in winter, when cold temperatures drive these mammals inland to warmer waters. Collisions with boat hulls and propellers that slice their thick hides injure and kill countless manatees each year. Virtually all manatees in Florida bear tell-tale scars of impacts with boats.


  • Watch for manatees, especially in winter. Wear polarized glasses to reduce surface glare and to allow better through-water visibility. When a manatee surfaces to breathe, only the tip of its snout is visible.

  • Obey posted speed and manatee caution signs. Manatees move slowly and can rarely evade approaching boats.

  • Avoid or travel very slowly across shallow grass beds, where manatees feed and rest. Seagrasses are an important food source for these vegetarians.

  • Stow trash and properly discard monofilament fishing line. Manatees may swallow or become trapped in lines and other plastic debris that litter our waterways.

  • Obey state and federal laws that make it illegal to harass, capture, hunt, or kill a manatee. Convictions cans result in imprisonment and fines of up to $20,000.

  • To report violations, manatee injuries, or deaths, call the Florida Marine Patrol, 1-888-404-FWCC (Cellular customers *FWC or #FWC).

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