Discover the Official Florida State Freshwater Mammal

Written by Em Casalena
Updated: September 8, 2023
© A Cotton Photo/
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There aren’t many states that have an official state freshwater mammal, but the state of Florida sure does! In this article, we’ll take a look at the legendary and graceful creature that is designated as the Florida state freshwater mammal.

What is the Official Florida State Freshwater Mammal?

The official Florida state freshwater mammal is the manatee or Trichechus manatus. The manatee is an amazing marine species that has won people over with its kind demeanor and distinctive appearance. The manatee, sometimes referred to as the sea cow, is categorized into three subspecies: the West Indian manatee, the Amazonian manatee, and the West African manatee. It is a member of the order Sirenia. The West Indian manatee, which is frequently observed in the warm coastal seas of the Americas, is the manatee often seen in Florida.

The manatee stands out from other aquatic life thanks to its unusual look. It is a huge, chubby, and simply adorable mammal that can reach a length of 13 feet. They can weigh between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds. Their bodies are coated in a thick layer of wrinkled, grayish-brown skin that often supports algae and barnacles. Their horizontal, paddle-shaped tails make it easier for them to swim and traverse through the water.

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Manatees are protected by several laws and conservation initiatives in Florida.

Manatee Behavior

Manatees have a reputation for being gentle and docile animals. They are mostly herbivorous animals that graze on water plants the majority of the time. Manatees can easily eat seagrasses, algae, and other plants because of their prehensile lower lips and flexible top lips. To support their huge bodies, they eat a lot of food every day. In fact, it is believed that they eat up to 10-15% of their body weight in plants.

Being gregarious animals, manatees can be seen alone or in big herds. They use a variety of vocalizations, including chirps, whistles, and squeaks, to communicate. They use these noises to communicate with other group members and maybe signal impending danger. Manatees are remarkably agile in the water and can swim up to 15 miles per hour, despite their friendly disposition. Although they can dive down to a depth of around 40 feet, they usually choose shallower waters.

Manatee Habitats

Manatees are primarily found in warm, shallow seas, which is their ideal habitat. They may be found in brackish water, such as mangrove swamps and freshwater springs. Manatees are also found in coastal regions, rivers, estuaries, and other freshwater waterways. Despite their considerable environmental adaptability, they need access to freshwater sources to drink and maintain their salt balance. Manatees frequently seek out warm-water refuges, such as natural springs or power plant outflows, during the winter months to prevent cold stress.

Unfortunately, manatees are endangered in their native habitat. Boat and ship collisions provide a serious risk and frequently result in injuries or fatalities. Significant issues include pollution, loss of their coastal habitats, and entanglement in fishing gear. Manatees are protected by several laws and conservation initiatives in Florida. They are categorized as endangered or vulnerable species in many areas.

Education campaigns, the creation of sanctuaries and protected areas, and the imposition of speed limits in manatee-inhabited waterways are all part of efforts to safeguard manatees. There are also initiatives in place to aid in the recovery and release of wounded or stranded manatees into the wild.

baby manatee and mother
Manatees (pictured) are generally harmless creatures that are actually quite nice to humans.

©Lukasz Machowczyk/

When Did the Manatee Become the Florida State Marine Mammal?

Florida residents have a particular place in their hearts for manatees, as evidenced by the fact that it is the state marine mammal. The Save the Manatee Club, a nonprofit group devoted to manatee protection, led the initiative to designate the manatee as the official Florida state freshwater mammal in the late 1970s. This marked the beginning of the path toward this designation.

As awareness of the dire situation of these delicate animals rose, the movement to make the manatee the state marine mammal gathered strength. Supporters understood the value of highlighting the manatee’s biological relevance and the necessity of safeguarding their habitats. Due to their modest reproduction rate and susceptibility to human activity, manatees require urgent conservation measures.

The Manatee Became the Florida State Marine Mammal in 1985

By adopting a resolution designating the manatee as the official state marine animal in 1979, the Florida Legislature made a significant advancement in this regard. This resolution served as a symbolic action to draw attention to the manatee’s conservation requirements and urge its protection. But it wasn’t until 1985 that a law was passed by the Florida Legislature designating the manatee as the state marine animal of Florida.

Increased conservation efforts and public awareness of the manatee’s condition were spurred by this classification. It raised awareness of the significance of protecting manatee habitats, putting laws in place to lessen boat crashes, and reducing other dangers these threatened animals suffer. Florida’s dedication to safeguarding its distinctive and varied marine habitats was further underlined by the state’s marine mammal status.

The manatee has faced various difficulties ever since it was named the official marine animal of Florida, including habitat loss, pollution, and boat collisions. But there is little question that the acknowledgment helped to increase public support for manatee conservation initiatives and to instill a feeling of pride and accountability among Floridians. A reminder of the value of Florida’s priceless marine resources, the manatee continues to be a recognizable emblem of the state’s rich natural history.

Are Manatees Endangered?

Manatee endangerment is a serious problem that requires attention and coordinated conservation efforts. These sweet sea creatures have long faced dangers, which has contributed to their current endangered position.

Manatees’ fragility was first acknowledged in 1893, the year Florida became the first state to enact legislation safeguarding them. But because of a number of circumstances, its numbers continued to drop, and in 1967 the Florida Manatee was added to the Endangered Animals Conservation Act’s list of endangered animals. This resulted in the manatee’s critical condition being officially acknowledged and led to more extensive conservation measures.

baby manatee nursing
Manatees (pictured) are unfortunately still considered endangered and at risk for extinction.


Difficulties Faced by Manatees

Numerous natural and man-made hazards exist for manatees. Their existence is significantly impacted by the loss and deterioration of their habitats, which include seagrass beds and warm-water refuges. Runoff, industrial waste, and toxic algal blooms may all cause pollution, which can have an impact on people’s health and food supplies. Manatees are extremely vulnerable to being injured or killed in boat and ship crashes. Additional difficulties for their existence include getting caught in fishing gear, poaching, and climate change-related elements like sea-level rise.

Florida’s Initiatives to Save the Manatees

Numerous initiatives are being taken in Florida to preserve and safeguard the Florida state freshwater mammal. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (or FWC), which works to monitor and manage manatee populations and their habitats, is essential to the protection of manatees. They use cutting-edge technologies and aerial surveys to follow manatee movements, estimate numbers, and pinpoint collision-prone zones.

In seas where manatees are present, speed limits and warning signs have been put in place to reduce boat strikes. Boaters are advised to go slowly and carefully. In order to encourage safe boating habits and raise public understanding of the value of manatee conservation, boater education programs and public awareness campaigns have been put into place.

Additionally, Florida has established a large number of manatee protection zones, including sanctuaries and refuges, where the animals may live in peace and find food and shelter. To restrict human activity and guarantee the preservation of essential ecosystems, these regions are restricted. Seagrass beds, which are essential for the manatee’s nutrition, have also been restored and protected.

Programs for rescue and rehabilitation are yet another essential component of manatee conservation. At specialist facilities like the Miami Seaquarium and the Manatee Hospital at the Lowry Park Zoo, there aare injured, ill, or orphaned manatees that are saved and treated medically on a regular basis. They are returned to the wild after rehabilitation to help the population.

Just as well, participation and support from the public are crucial for manatee conservation. Nonprofit groups like the Save the Manatee Club put up a lot of effort to spread awareness, push for safety precautions, and fund programs for research and education. To further the welfare of manatees and their habitats, they work with governmental organizations, academics, and local groups.

Hope for the Future

Manatees still encounter serious difficulties despite these conservation efforts. To address new concerns and enhance conservation measures, ongoing study, monitoring, and adaptive management techniques are essential. For the long-term survival of manatees, it is equally crucial that the general population continue to receive education and get involved.

Fun Facts About Manatees

Manatees are fascinating animals with a variety of unusual and interesting traits. To start, manatees are famous for their calm and relaxed swimming style. They usually swim between three and five miles per hour. They can, however, accelerate quickly for brief periods of time up to 15 miles per house. Manatees’ sluggish metabolic rate contributes to their low resting heart rate of 30 beats per minute, which aids in energy conservation throughout their largely inactive existence.

Manatees only consume water vegetation since they are exclusively herbivorous. To maintain their enormous size, they eat a lot every day. Specifically, they can eat up to 10-15% of their body weight. As a result, the manatee is one of the biggest herbivorous animals in the world. They may weigh between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds and reach lengths of up to 13 feet.

Manatees lack front teeth but do have molars. The molars develop and advance continually, swapping out the more worn-down teeth as they become more numerous. They can efficiently feed on tough plant material because of this adaption.

Manatees are thought to be closely related to elephants in the past. Their skeletal structures are similar, and they have modified forelimbs that resemble elephant trunks.

Manatees and their Aquatic Environment

Manatees can hold their breath for an astonishing amount of time. They can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes if necessary, although they usually emerge every three to five minutes for breath. Manatees are renowned for their vocalizations in addition to their ability to hold their breath. Squeaks, whistles, and chirps are some examples of these vocalizations. They connect socially and communicate with one another using these noises, which keeps them in touch with other manatees.

Manatees cannot endure prolonged exposure to water that is below 68 degrees F because they are sensitive to the cold. In order to keep their body temperature stable throughout the winter months, they seek warm-water refuges like natural springs or power plant outflows. It certainly makes sense why they enjoy the warm waters of Florida!

Manatees are mostly solitary creatures. However, they can form smaller groups or bigger herds. Being gregarious creatures, they frequently engage in body rubbing and playful activity with one another.

Manatee close up portrait underwater
Manatees (pictured) tend to spend most of their lives as loners, but they will occasionally engage in playful behavior with one another.

©Andrea Izzotti/

Where Can Manatees Be Found in Florida?

Manatees are known to inhabit Florida, and the state has a number of prime areas where these calm sea creatures may be seen. In Florida, manatees may be found in a range of aquatic habitats, including rivers, springs, estuaries, bays, and coastal seas. In Florida, you may see manatees at the following important locations.

  • Crystal River – On the Gulf Coast lies Crystal River, which is well-known for its resident population of manatees. When manatees seek out the warm water of Crystal River Springs in the winter, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge offers them a haven.
  • Blue Spring State Park – Blue Spring State Park is a well-liked winter haven for manatees and is located on the St. Johns River in central Florida. The spring-fed waters of Blue Spring maintain a steady temperature during the colder months, drawing a significant number of manatees looking for warmth.
  • Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park – Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a park with a natural spring and an underwater observatory that allows visitors to see manatees up close and in their natural environment. It is situated on Florida’s west coast.
  • Everglades National Park – Manatees may be found throughout Everglades National Park’s enormous wetlands, especially in the estuaries and coastal regions where freshwater and saltwater mingle.
  • Fort Pierce Inlet State Park – The manatee population in Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, which lies on the Atlantic coast, is well-known. From the park’s viewing deck or while kayaking nearby, visitors may see manatees.
  • Tampa Bay – A significant number of manatees may be seen in Tampa Bay and the places close by, including Apollo Beach. There are also chances to learn about and see these gentle giants in viewing areas and educational facilities.

Do Your Research and Keep the Florida State Freshwater Mammal Safe

Manatees are migratory animals, thus they may travel between different places based on things like water temperature and food availability. It’s always a good idea to get the most recent information about manatee sightings and the best places to see them from local authorities, conservation organizations, or tourist centers. 

Always keep in mind that if you do come across manatees in the wild, it is important to keep your distance and adhere to any rules or restrictions in place to protect their welfare.

A magnificent marine animal with a distinctive look, the manatee plays a crucial part in the coastal ecosystems of Florida and beyond. Despite the difficulties they encounter, these endearing animals continue to win the hearts of people all across the world, motivating conservation efforts and acting as a constant reminder of the need to protect our natural environment. There’s a lot of love about the Florida state freshwater mammal!

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About the Author

I'm a lover of all things sustainability, from urban farming to not killing houseplants. I love carnivorous plants, indigenous crops, and air-cleansing indoor plants. My area of expertise lies in urban farming and conscious living. A proud Southwest Institute of Healing Arts graduate and certified Urban Farming instructor.

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