Fun Facts

  • The number of manatees occupying Florida waters stands at something around 6,250; in a single day's aerial survey, Mote staff sometimes see more than half of that population.

  • A common myth regarding manatees is they are an invasive species in Florida imported to control exotic aquatic plants. Florida manatees are in fact native to the United States, as seen in both the fossil records and in Native American sites. Depending on the time of year they can be frequently found in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. On very rare occasions Florida manatees have been seen as far north as Massachusetts!

  • Manatees can live at least a half a century; bowhead whales can live two centuries. Although manatees have the nickname “seacow”, their closest relatives are elephants and hyraxes.

  • Manatees have unique teeth to cope with the abrasive plants they eat. Molars form at the back of their jaw and move forward horizontally as they wear down, termed ‘marching molars’. Eventually, these marching molars fall out and are continuously replaced by newly formed molars throughout a manatee’s life. Marching molars are unique in comparison to other mammals' teeth that fall out and are replaced with a new tooth vertically in the same spot.
  • Manatees were once thought to be mermaids by early sailors, including Christopher Columbus, who described the “mermaids” as less beautiful than he imagined with masculine faces. In fact, manatees belong to the order Sirenia, which derives its name from the sirens (or mermaids) of Greek mythology.

Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. It is illegal to approach, feed, or harass manatees. Below are some viewing tips:

  • Adhere to posted ‘Manatee Protection Zones’ when boating; manatees are frequently hit by boats and sometimes fatal collisions occur.
  • Feeding and providing freshwater to manatees is not only illegal, it is harmful to manatees. It encourages them to swim close to people and boats which may hurt them. Also, they may alter their behavior in the wild as they become accustomed to people.
  • Do not approach manatees while swimming or boating. If manatees approach you, avoid touching them and allow them to continue swimming without chasing or pursuing them.
  • Discarding litter and monofilament in an appropriate way reduces the likelihood that manatees and other marine species become entangled or ingest trash.
  • People remain very concerned about the long-term survival of manatees in Florida. Given the diversity and severity of threats to manatees, this concern is not misplaced. However, what often fails to be transmitted is praise for Floridians and agencies whose collective actions have promoted generally increasing manatee numbers over the past 30 years.

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