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, drowned under reservoirs, or blocked by dams. At the same time, we’ve built electric power plants and other structures that produce artificial sources of warm water, and many manatees (over 60% of the population) 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 & Ʊ Service and the Florida Fish & Ʊ 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 other important 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 Ʊ Refuge and other areas within Kings Bay. We are working with government agencies, power companies and other organizations to identify and conserve regional warm water networks to help transition manatees away from depending on artificial sources of warm water.

One key project is Defenders’ advocacy and education work to restore the natural flow of the Ocklawaha River by removing a portion of the dam that impounds it; this will open up natural, warm water habitat for many hundreds of manatees. 


Manatees continue to face many threats, including collisions with boats, habitat loss and degradation, fishing gear entanglement, human harassment, exposure to red tide and other harmful 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
 Appendix I
What You Can Do

Support programs for land and water acquisition and restoration. Manatees are sensitive to human harassment and may leave their vitally important warm-water areas 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 Ʊ Conservation Commission’s Ʊ Alert number: 1-888-404-3922.

Manatee Safety Card
Latin Name
Trichechus manatus latirostris
10 -12 feet long and 1,500 – 1,800 pounds
50 -60 years

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.


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


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


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

Your purchase 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.


Charleston, S.C.

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