Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation

A rescue team from Dolphin Research Center attempts a manatee rescue in the Florida Keys on board a boat donated by Save the Manatee Club. The Tremblay boat features a removable stern and is useful for open water rescues as a net can be deployed cleanly off the stern and the manatee pulled onto the large, open deck. (Photo Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, FL).

Bonnie the manatee is rescued after her flipper became entangled in monofilament line. (Photo © Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, FL.)

Each year, many manatees are killed or injured by watercraft collisions. They also accidentally ingest fishhooks, litter, or they can become entangled in crab trap or monofilament line. But people may be able to help rescue a manatee by calling the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Wildlife officials will investigate and, if need be, coordinate the rescue of the manatee.

How to Get Help for Manatees
If you spot a sick, injured, or orphaned manatee or a manatee that is being harassed, you should immediately call the FWC. Please also report dead manatees or a manatee wearing a "tag" or tracking device.

  • Call 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), *FWC or #FWC on your cellular phone or send a text message to Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also use VHF Channel 16 on your marine radio.

  • Give dispatchers the exact location of the manatee. 

If the manatee appears injured, please call right away. If injuries are not obvious, but you still suspect the manatee may be injured, try to determine the number of times the manatee surfaces to breathe during a five minute period before calling. Since manatees can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes at a time, frequent surfacing could be indicative of an injury. Please call:

  • If you see a manatee with a pink or red wound or with deep cuts. This means the wound is fresh.
  • If you see a manatee with grayish-white or white wounds, this likely means the wound has healed. But the manatee can still have internal injuries, so continue to observe the animal for any of the other characteristics listed here.
  • If the manatee is tilting to one side, unable to submerge, seems to have trouble breathing, or is acting strangely.
  • If you observe a manatee calf by itself with no adults around for an extended period of time. Manatee calves may remain dependent on their mothers for up to two years. If the mother dies before the calf is weaned, there is a strong likelihood the calf will not survive alone.
  • If you see anyone harassing a manatee.
  • If you see boaters speeding in a protected area.
  • If you see a manatee who has become entangled in monofilament line, crabtrap lines, or other debris. Do not attempt to remove debris by yourself. Debris may be embedded underneath the skin and only a trained veterinarian can adequately assess and repair the damage.
  • If you see a dead manatee. By doing a necropsy, scientists can sometimes determine the cause of death and better understand the dangers to manatees.

  • If you see a manatee tagged with a radio or satellite transmitter. Sightings of tagged manatees help provide researchers with information that can be used to protect manatees and their habitat. However, do not attempt to remove the transmitter. It is designed to come off if it becomes entangled, so the animal won't be trapped.
A team assesses the health of a rescued manatee calf. (Photo © Dolphin Research Center, Grassy Key, FL)

The Rescue Network
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists work with a network of agencies and organizations to rescue manatees and transport them to rehabilitation facilities. SeaWorld Orlando, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Lowry Park Zoo, Miami Seaquarium, and Dolphin Research Center are all facilities in Florida that are authorized under the joint supervision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the FWC to capture, transport and/or treat endangered manatees. SeaWorld Orlando, Lowry Park Zoo, and Miami Seaquarium are the only facilities authorized for critical care and rehabilitation of injured or sick manatees or orphaned calves.

Once a manatee is ready to be released, it is equipped with tracking gear and its health and re-adaptation to the wild is monitored by the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), a cooperative effort of nonprofit, private, state and federal entities. (Save the Manatee Club is one of the MRP partners.)

Save the Manatee Club staff handle reports from the public on injured manatees and help to facilitate rescues. SMC has also provided funds for equipment used in manatee rescue and rehabilitation efforts both in and outside of Florida, including nets, an isolation pool, a manatee care building, tracking gear, and diving equipment. The Club helped fund a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project to help re-acclimate manatees to the wild and donated funds to help build a shelter for injured manatees awaiting transport in the Florida Keys. In addition, SMC has donated seven boats and trailers to various agencies and organizations for manatee rescue and research purposes.

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