If you have ever kayaked around Siesta Key and Sarasota, chances are excellent that you may have encountered a manatee during your paddle. But if you do spot a manatee in the water with you, there is no need to fear. Manatees are exceptionally peaceful and gentle creatures despite their large size, and they move slowly and methodically through the water. Manatees are herbivores, meaning that their diet includes aquatic plants such as sea grass – and they have no interest in humans except for their playful curiosity.

Also known as sea cows, manatees are large aquatic mammals that are native to regional coastal areas. They can be found in the many rivers, bays, canals, and estuaries weaving through Sarasota, moving easily between fresh and brackish (salty) waters. Lush beds of seagrass and abundant freshwater aquatic vegetation in these waterways offer a daily buffet of the manatee’s primary food sources – and they can consume more than 100 pounds of these grasses daily.

Manatees are a vital part of the marine ecosystem, yet some, such as the West Indian manatee (which is found in our local waters) are considered to be a threatened species.  As residents and visitors enjoy the waters that manatees live in, it is our collective responsibility to protect these special animals for future generations to enjoy. By being respectful of their habits and habitats, humans can help them to thrive and survive.

Did You Know?  The manatees’ survival is primarily threatened by humans, with their number reduced due to boat strikes, water pollution, and the destruction of their natural habitats.

What to Do if You Encounter a Manatee

Manatees are often spotted in this area, drawn to warm local waters to swim, graze on grasses, and get some undisturbed sleep. Manatees are serene animals, but they can be intimidating at first – averaging from 10 to 13 feet in length and weighing from 1,200 to 3,500 pounds. Even at this size, their playful nature means you are likely to see barrel rolls, somersaults, and other water aerobics. Because encountering a manatee while kayaking or paddle boarding is likely, you should understand the legal guidelines for how to interact with these creatures.

Click here to Read Full Guidelines from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

If a manatee approaches your vessel, brushes up against you, or playfully extends a fin, you will not be fined or arrested. However, touching, petting, or attempting to ride a manatee (yes, people have tried) are all illegal. This is due to the fact that manatees are very sensitive, and although seemingly friendly, interactions with humans can trigger extreme stress, especially in juveniles. In addition, manatees that grow accustomed to human interaction may lose their fear of humans or boats, elevating the likelihood that they will be in dangerous situations that can get them injured or killed.

Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1973 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. These acts make it illegal to:

  • Giving food or water to manatees
  • Using food or water to attract manatees
  • Coming between a mother and calf
  • Disturbing manatee mating herds
  • Chasing manatees either while swimming or with a boat, kayak, or canoe
  • Disturbing resting or sleeping manatees
  • Hitting a manatee, or jumping or standing on a manatee
  • Holding onto a manatee, or attempting to ride a manatee
  • Blocking a manatee’s way
  • Attempting to hook or catch a manatee

It is exciting and beautiful to spot manatees in the wild. If you do see one or more of these adorable creatures when in a kayak, paddle very slowly past, or stop paddling altogether and enjoy the moment. Let them swim by. Take photos or videos to show your friends – but don’t touch!

See Manatees With Ride and Paddle

While no one can 100% guarantee a manatee sighting, be sure to ask our onsite team about the places you may see one – or better yet, ask about taking a kayak tour. Professional tour guides are adept at spotting manatees as well as all kinds of native birds, plants, and wildlife.

At Ride and Paddle, we are committed to ensuring that your day on the water is as enjoyable and safe as possible! Call today to learn more about rentals and guided tours.