Cooler temperatures are rolling in, which means manatees will be frequenting Florida waters.
Manatee season, which lasts from mid-November to the end of March, is an ideal time to see these gentle giants firsthand as they travel south toward warmer waters. As their gracious hosts, it’s vital we do our part to make sure these creatures stay safe in their winter habitat and throughout the year.
Whether you are staying on shore, going for a swim or boating on the water, here are a few ways you can help this protected species stay safe.

Distance is the best form of appreciation

If you spot manatees, it is best to practice passive observation. While you may feel tempted to interact with and touch them, resist the urge. Manatees are slow-moving creatures and intrusion of their personal space can force them to waste energy trying to leave and avoid contact. These animals seem unharmed by your touch, but disturbances from humans can cause manatees to leave a warm water or forage area, potentially exposing them to harmful cold temperatures or boat traffic. Observing from a respectful and safe distance allows onlookers to get a deeper look into manatees’ natural behaviors in the wild.

Manatee Lagoon in Riviera Beach can attract hundreds of manatees each season when conditions are right, and it’s a great place to peek right over the water to see manatees without interfering.

Be aware when boating

As Floridians, we know that the winter season brings cooler temperatures, and many take advantage of ideal weather with a day on the water. Boating accidents, however, are one of the biggest dangers for manatees. In fact, according to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, watercraft incidents account for nearly 30 percent of all manatee deaths. Surprisingly, boats can be barely visible from beneath the surface, and boater-manatee interactions can be tragic due to high-speed impacts. Remember to stay in deep water channels, obey manatee protection and no wake zones, and avoid seagrass beds where manatees may be feeding. And, of course, keep a close eye out for any snouts or flukes that may come up above the surface. Another tell-tale sign are the ripples that manatee flukes generate when the animals are near the surface.

Feeding frenzy

Did you know manatees are herbivores that live mostly on sea grass and other vegetation? Do not feed or give water to any manatees that may approach you. Aside from disturbing their normal diet, there is a risk of a manatee feeling too comfortable around humans, which can lead them into harmful situations.

No debris, please

Keep all trash and litter with you until you find a proper receptacle. Even the smallest pieces of waste can be ingested by a manatee or other sea creature and cause sickness or internal injury. There are believed to be 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean. These items are extremely harmful to animals because they take so long to break down. In order to keep our natural environments and wildlife thriving, we all must do our part to keep it clean and healthy, and that means keeping trash out of our waterways the best we can.

Knowledge is power

The best way to make sure our manatees continue to prosper in Florida is by staying educated and informed. The more you know about them, the more you appreciate these lovable and gentle creatures. Here at Manatee Lagoon – An FPL Eco-Discovery CenterTM, we make sure you can easily learn everything there is to know about topics like migratory patterns, diet, anatomy and habitats. Did you know that manatees have fingernails? And, that they are distant relatives of elephants? The more facts you know, the more fun you’ll have manatee-spotting this season.

As winter arrives, more and more manatees are likely to visit Manatee Lagoon. Visitors and neighbors are welcome to observe these fantastic creatures in their natural habitat while learning about manatees and the rest of the wildlife in the Lake Worth Lagoon. Guests can engage in interactive learning displays and games, learn about manatee anatomy from the inside out with manatee bones on display and hear from Manatee Lagoon’s own Manatee Masters who can share fun facts about manatees and their behaviors.

The Palm Beacher and Manatee Lagoon partnered to create this piece. For more learning, fun activities and interactive exhibits, come by Manatee Lagoon or visit online at www.VisitManateeLagoon.com.

Written by Hannah Cooper, a Ph.D. candidate in Geosciences at Florida Atlantic University.