Q. How far do manatees travel?
-- Rebecca Salinas, Florida
A. Florida manatees are considered to be somewhat migratory animals. Generally speaking, they are found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal water ecosystems of the southeastern United States. They can live in fresh, brackish or salt water.
In the summer months, manatees travel freely around Florida’s rivers and coastal waters. A few manatees may range as far west as Texas and as far north as Virginia (one manatee was even documented in Cape Cod, Massachusetts), but these sightings are rare. Sporadic summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are relatively common.
In the winter, usually November through March, the manatee population is concentrated primarily in Florida. Water temperatures that fall below 70° F (21° C) cause manatees to move into warm water refuge areas. Manatees are susceptible to cold-related disease, and they congregate near natural springs or warm water effluents of power plants.
When water temperatures begin to cool in September and October, those manatees that left Florida usually return home to Florida. To report any sightings of manatees on the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico out of season and outside Florida, please contact your local Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Phone numbers are posted at the following link: Go to http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/report.htm
Report manatees in Alabama and Mississippi by calling DISL's Manatee Sighting Network at 1-866-493-5803. For Louisiana, the contact would be the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries at 1-800-442-2511, and for Texas the contact would be the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-800-9-MAMMAL (800-962-6625).
Be prepared to report the number of manatees observed, the physical location of the manatees with reference to any nearby landmarks, and a general description of the size and behavior of the manatee. Also, photos of the manatees, particularly clear photos of any scars or injuries, help biologists identify individual manatees.