Protected: Manatees & Harassment

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What to do if you see a manatee being harassed

An individual aboard a boat pokes a manatee. Any action that could cause harm to a manatee or alter its natural behavior—such as this one—is harassment, and it is punishable by law.

REPORT: If you see a manatee that is being harassed, or encounter photo or videos online that show manatee harassment, please immediately report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) by calling 1-800-404-FWCC (3922). Outside of Florida, please make a report with your local wildlife agency or stranding network.

DOCUMENT: Many individuals who have faced legal consequences for harassing manatees have been arrested after video or photo evidence was provided by onlookers or discovered online. If you see someone harassing a manatee and it is safe to do so, document the activity by taking photos or video.

Manatee Harassment FAQs

  • How can interacting with manatees be harmful to them? If they don’t like it, they can swim away.
    Disturbance from human activity can cause manatees to leave a safe area, putting them in harm’s way from cold exposure or nearby boat vessel traffic. Disturbance can also cause manatees to expend precious energy moving around to avoid contact or interaction with humans. This is particularly relevant when manatees have congregated in a warm water habitat or a designated manatee sanctuary.
  • What is wrong with feeding manatees or giving them water?
    Feeding manatees or giving them water is against the law. Doing so can result in behavior modification and changes to their natural feeding patterns, or they may be fed items that are not part of their natural diet. Manatees are skilled at finding sources of fresh water as they travel and do not need supplemental water from humans. Feeding or giving water to manatees may also lead them to lose their fear of humans. “Tamed” manatees may approach a boat expecting food or water, only to be injured or killed by a propeller or become entangled in fishing gear. Manatees also sometimes like to feed on the vegetation that gets wrapped around the boat’s propeller. Before starting the engine, always check around your boat for manatees. For more on this topic, visit our page Why is it wrong to give food or water to manatees?
A photographer gets very close to a mother manatee and her calf. A mother/calf pair should never be separated, as calves are not able to survive on their own.
  • I’ve heard there may not be enough natural seagrass for manatees. I need to feed them to help them survive.
    Feeding manatees or giving them water is against the law. In most areas in which manatees are found, there is enough vegetation to sustain a healthy manatee population. In addition to seagrass, manatees also eat other submerged, floating, and emergent plants. Decline of aquatic vegetation has led to an unusual number of manatee deaths in and around the Indian River Lagoon, on Florida’s east coast. In response, a supplemental feeding program trial was conducted with the required permits by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program was designed and monitored by wildlife experts to limit manatees’ exposure to humans and taking into account their dietary needs. It was also designed to create little disturbance in the surrounding ecosystem. Even in this area, it is still illegal for individuals to feed or give water to manatees.
  • Isn’t the best way for people to appreciate manatees to see them up close and personal?
    The best way to appreciate manatees is from a respectful distance. Natural manatee behavior can be disrupted by humans who approach manatees too closely. Observing manatees at a distance provides the best opportunity to observe their natural behaviors.
  • Why is it so bad if a mother and calf get separated?
    Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers for up to two years. Not only do mothers feed their calves, but they also teach them essential survival skills. Calves that are separated from their mothers may not be reunited. For example, if a mother swims away while a calf is being petted, the calf may not find its way back to her. Manatee calves cannot survive on their own.
  • Manatee mating herd
    A manatee mating herd. In shallower waters, the effect can be quite dramatic, but it is important to observe this behavior from a distance.

    I saw a large group of manatees playing together in the water. It looked so fun, I wanted to join in myself! Can I?
    This type of behavior is typical of manatee mating herds. It can be quite dramatic with lots of movement and splashing, especially if it takes place in shallow water. This activity can attract people who are either curious about what’s going on or concerned that the manatees are injured, stranded, or in distress. However, it is important to observe this natural behavior from a respectful distance. Any disturbances may disrupt this the mating herd and jeopardize the reproductive cycle. Additionally, adult manatees are large, powerful creatures. It can be dangerous to approach or interfere with a mating herd. For more about manatee mating herds, visit our page For future generations: please keep your distance from manatee mating herds.

  • I have gone swimming with manatees, and some of them come right up to me and roll over to have their bellies scratched. They enjoy it.
    Manatees that exhibit this behavior may have been “tamed” from previous interactions with other humans. As appealing as it may seem to interact with manatees, it is not what is best for them. A manatee rolling on its side is actually exhibiting an avoidance behavior. For their own protection, wild manatees must stay wild to survive.

Sources

[i] “Ryan Waterman, Fla. Man, arrested for allegedly harassing a manatee.” CBS News, 19 Feb. 2013, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ryan-waterman-fla-man-arrested-for-allegedly-harassing-a-manatee/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[ii] “Woman who rode manatee at Fort De Soto turns herself in.” Tampa Bay Times, 2 Oct. 2012, https://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/woman-who-rode-manatee-at-fort-de-soto-turns-herself-in/1254405/. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[iii] Suarez Sang, Lucia I. “Florida man splashes water at manatees, lands in jail.” Fox News, 1 May 2018. https://www.foxnews.com/us/florida-man-splashes-water-at-manatees-lands-in-jail. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[iv] Joseph, Chris. “Florida men who cannonballed onto manatees and posted it on YouTube sentenced.” Broward Palm Beach New Times. 20 Jun. 2014. https://www.browardpalmbeach.com/news/florida-men-who-cannonballed-onto-manatees-and-posted-it-on-youtube-sentenced-6464495. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.

[v] “One day of fishing, 30 days in prison.” Soundings, 6 May 2008. https://www.soundingsonline.com/news/one-day-of-fishing-30-days-in-prison. Accessed 29 Aug. 2022.