Rules to Follow When Swimming With Manatees

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Manatees are protected animals under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. These are regulations, enforced by both the United States Federal Government and the State of Florida, make it illegal to hunt, capture, harass or kill manatees. Manatees are also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 which outlaws any intentional or negligent action that annoys, harasses, molests or disturbs manatees.

Stringent Regulations

Manatee protection laws are enforced by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC). These two agencies work together to ensure that people who enter a manatee habitat do not endanger the animals. In fact, the breach of a manatee protection law can result in a penalty at both the state and federal level.

For instance, a breach of state law may lead to a maximum fine of $500, imprisonment of up to 60 days or both. But when the violation is severe, such as extreme harassment that leads to injury or death of a manatee, the state of Florida may choose to have it dealt with at the federal level, resulting in a fine of up to $50,000, maximum imprisonment term of 1 year, or both.

What are the rules you should follow when swimming with the manatees?

  1. Float on the water surface and passively observe the animals. Passive observation is the best and recommended way to interact with manatees and all wildlife.

2. Do not touch a manatee unless it touches you first. That is, no matter how excited you are, you must never touch the animals until they give you a signal to do that. When they approach you for a touch, you should not touch them on the stomach or back, and must never touch them with more than one hand—two hands is illegal.

3. Do not disturb or wake up a sleeping animal—that can lead to a whopping fine. Avoid approaching a manatee that is resting or sleeping. You should also not corner or surround a manatee.

4. Do not chase, pursue, ride or harass a manatee when you discover one in the water near you—whether you are snorkeling, swimming, diving, operating a boat or paddling. If a manatee tries to avoid you, do not go after the animal for a closer view. Harassment means any action that can alter the natural behavior of the animals.

5. Keep your hands and objects to yourself. That is you should not snag, grab, hook, hit, pinch, ride or hit a manatee. Likewise, you should not prod, poke or stab a manatee with your feet, hands or any object. Give the animals space to move and never single out or isolate an individual manatee from the group or separate a calf from a cow.

6. Do not feed manatees or give them water. Such actions can make manatees accustomed to people, alter their behavior in the wild and cause them to lose their natural fear for humans and boats, making them more susceptible to harm.

7. Avoid excessive splashing and noise if a manatee is nearby. Noise and splashing may startle resting manatees and put them in harm’s way if they are frightened and choose to leave safe areas. Also avoid scuba gear and other devices that may cause manatees to leave their areas. Instead, use snorkel gear and float at the surface of water passively to observe manatees.

8. Do not go into areas marked as “No Entry – Manatee Refuge,” because these areas have been identified as vital for the survival of the animals. Follow viewing and sanctuary guidelines, respecting the directions given by manatee volunteers and law enforcement officers. Similarly, avoid touching tags and research gear and refrain from any actions that may interfere with research activities.

Personal Responsibility

Manatee protection is not just the prerogative of the law enforcement agencies. It is also the responsibility of every person who gets into or operates in a manatee habitat to ensure that the animals are not put at risk, injured or killed. That is why when you go snorkeling with the animals, you must always remember that you are responsible for your actions. For example, if you fail to follow the rules for swimming with the manatees, you are culpable and will be individually charged for your conduct.

So before you get too excited about swimming with the manatees, make sure that you have learned the rules that apply. Remember that your actions can interfere with your enjoyment and seriously affect other people and the animals at the activity site. Following the rules will not diminish your experience. The animals are quite social and will come to you for a close interaction.

At Captain Mike’s, we will ensure that you learn and follow the three golden rules of snorkeling with the manatees—minimizing splash noise, acting with slow movements and not touching the animals with two hands or in the back or stomach. We will also show you a video on how to conduct yourself in the water. For more information on laaws and guidelines related to manatees and how to behave in their habitat, visit Captain Mike’s Swimming With the Manatees website.

Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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