Manatees on the Move!

Did you know manatees are being sighted with increasing frequency in Northwest Florida? More and more coastal residents and visitors are delighted as they see manatees when they are swimming, boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, or spending time overlooking the water from their docks and balconies.

map showing gulf of Mexico
Credit: Dauphin Island Sea Lab Manatee Sighting Network

Manatees were historically found primarily in peninsular Florida (Crystal River and further south), only occasionally ranging up along the northern Gulf or Atlantic Coasts. But in the Gulf of Mexico region, more and more manatees are wintering at Wakulla Springs in the eastern panhandle and then roaming further west during the summer.

In fact, manatees have become such regular summer and fall visitors in Mobile Bay, AL that the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL) started a Manatee Sighting Network (MSN) in 2009.

Manatees are gentle, slowing-moving herbivores found in fresh or salt water, often in areas with seagrass or other aquatic vegetation. They have no natural enemies. However, manatees are vulnerable to being hit (and injured or killed) by motorboats. Watercraft pose a major risk for both manatees and their main food source (seagrass), which are also damaged by propeller blades.

As many as 90-95% of Florida manatees have boating/propeller scars from past collisions with boats. Scientists use these scars and marks to recognize different individuals.

manatee
Credit: Kaila Drayton/NWF.

To reduce threats to manatees and seagrass from interactions with boats, the National Wildlife Federation launched a new outreach program and website in the Pensacola and Perdido Bay area: Panhandlemanatee.org. The program is designed to help protect manatees and seagrass with outreach and education targeted towards boaters, anglers, and those who live in the coastal communities. We are asking the public to help by being on the look out for manatees, and reporting any sightings.

Reporting manatee sightings

The project kicked off this summer, with the team attending festivals and speaking to boaters at ramps and marinas. We have already heard that manatees are being sighted throughout the Pensacola and Perdido Bays areas, including a group of manatees off Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze, FL over the Fourth of July weekend while our volunteers were on site talking to boaters. The manatees must have heard we were looking for them so stopped by to say hello!

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Manatees are being seen throughout the Pensacola and Perdido Bay areas. Information on manatees and how to interact with them, as well as how to report a sighting is available through the Panhandlemanatee.org website. There is a link on that site that automatically redirects users with information on the date and location of the sighting to the DISL Manatee Sighting Network. According to Elizabeth Heib who manages the MSN:

“…Manatee sightings for just the first three months of 2021 are equal to ~50% of the total sightings for all of 2020. The program is definitely working!”

Elizabeth Heib, Manatee Sighting Network

If you are in Northwest Florida, you can help! Report manatee sightings and learn about manatees at Panhandlemanatee.org

We are also looking for volunteers to help us get the word out about manatees in the area. If you are interested in volunteering, please let us know by emailing panhandlemanatee.org@gmail.com or by completing this sign-up form and we will send you information to get you welcomed in, trained, and out volunteering! 

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