In 2005, Florida officially declared November as Manatee Awareness Month to bring attention to the state’s official marine mammal. Manatees have no natural enemies in the wild, but they do face threats from human activity; collisions with watercraft are the leading threat to manatee populations.
Around this time of year, manatees travel from rivers, estuaries and bays to their winter habitats, which include both natural and artificial warm-water areas. Loss of this warm-water habitat that is essential for their survival is another serious threat to manatees. Residential and commercial development has reduced the natural warm-water springs that manatees use to stay warm in the colder winter months.
Manatee populations have shown much-celebrated improvement since their placement on the endangered species list in 1967; this year was the third in a row that more than 6,000 manatees were counted in Florida through aerial surveys. Compare that to a few hundred manatees in the 1970s and roughly 1,200 manatees in 1991, and it’s clear that there have been significant improvements in manatee populations. This increase prompted the federal government to change manatees’ status from “endangered” to “threatened” earlier this year.
But there’s still work to be done to ensure the well-being of this beloved animal for years to come! One of the most important ways that humans can help protect manatees is by observing them from a distance. Harassment is a big issue for these marine mammals, especially for resting manatees and mothers nursing their calves. Abiding by speed zone regulations and protecting natural warm-water springs are also vitally important steps in protecting manatee populations.
Learn about the National Aquarium’s commitment to tackling the issues facing endangered and threatened species.