Save the Manatee Club’s Position on Manatee Harassment and Swimming with Manatees

Updated August 7, 2009

Save the Manatee Club is not opposed to swimming with manatees in Crystal River, but we are committed to stopping manatee harassment.

Manatees, as an endangered Marine Mammal are protected federally both under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act and at a state level under the Manatee Sanctuary Act and the Florida Endangered Species Act. Harassment of manatees is unlawful under each of these four acts and violations must be effectively enforced.

Unfortunately, due to a large growing number of interactions between swimmers and manatees, especially in Crystal River, Florida, incidents of manatee harassment are increasing dramatically and must be eliminated through enforcement of the laws and prosecution of violators.  Violations have become so numerous that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has been petitioned to ban all swimming with manatees.

A swimmer harasses resting manatees in Crystal River.
(Photo ® David R. Schrichte)

Recognizing the long history of swim-with programs in the Crystal River area, Save the Manatee Club has not called for the elimination of swim-with programs in Crystal River, Florida.  However, we adamantly believe that the widespread harassment of manatees in the Crystal River – Kings Bay must be stopped. After much study and interaction with many varied interests, we urge the implementation of an immediate “No Touch” rule as a means of addressing the most egregious harassment related problems facing manatees.

When people try to touch or pursue manatees, they can alter the manatee’s behavior, even causing them to leave a warm water area, which can be fatal.  Human interactions, which include touching, riding, poking, chasing, feeding, or giving water to manatees can make manatees more tame and encourage them to approach humans, which further alters their behavior.  Additionally, such interactions can lead to inadvertent separation of mother manatees and their calves, which can lead to a calf’s death if the two are not reunited quickly.  The effects of harassment on manatee health and well-being may at times be subtle, but that doesn’t make the cumulative effect of these interactions any less severe. Because of the very long delays in bringing this long standing problem under control we urge all interested parties to work together to stop manatee harassment before the courts force an end to all swim-with manatee encounters.

Below are some additional measures we believe would help eliminate manatee harassment statewide:

  • A no touch policy is needed.  This doesn’t mean no snorkeling, so there should be no impact to local businesses.
  • Snorkelers should not use swim fins, and should be required to wear flotation devices.
  • Swimmers should not approach manatees closer than 10 feet.
  • Limitations on the number of people in a given area at a given time are needed.
  • Officers may need more education about normal manatee behavior so they know when human activities are disruptive.
  • Tour operators and photographers should undergo a certification program.
  • The rules need to be clearly defined once and for all, and abided by statewide.  The rules cannot be different in Crystal River.
  • Better education/outreach materials with consistent messaging are needed.
  • Unsupervised visitation that results from unguided boat rentals may need to be limited or stopped.
  • There is a need for more and larger sanctuaries.
  • Rulemaking is needed to clarify definitions and allow for enforceable policies that will protect manatees from harassment.

What You Can Do:

Save the Manatee Club staff will continue to work on this issue to make sure that manatees are protected. We may need your help in the future, so please sign up for our E-mail Action Alert Team. We'll send information on manatee-related issues and let you know how you can help.

Get More Info:

manatee harassment video

See the Video
See the award-winning video that documents manatee harassment at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge.

How Close is Too Close When Humans Meet Manatees?
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times

Managing Manatees
Read an article on the manatee harassment
issue in the St. Petersburg Times

Manatee Paparazzi
Another video documenting harassment at Crystal River

Blue Spring and Crystal River
A video comparison of manatee viewing practices at both locations

Please Don't Ride The Manatees
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times documenting
harassment in the Homosassa River

Manatee Petting: Just Good Fun Or Harassment?
Read an article in the St. Petersburg Times
View the accompanying video