Manatee Conservation


The ZT Saves manatee care team releases a manatee back into native Florida waters after successful rehabilitation at ZooTampa

Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation, Release & Monitoring

For 30 years, we have been widely known for caring for critically injured, sick and orphaned manatees. This vulnerable species has been at the heart of our commitment to the conservation of Florida wildlife.

Our animal care and veterinary teams are often called upon to assist in the field with rescuing orphaned, sick or injured manatees. When a concerned citizen spots a manatee they think may be in trouble, we respond. Since 1991, we have treated over 500 manatees and have returned more than 280 of them to their native waters.

Manatees are strong, resilient, and can overcome some of the most severe injuries with the care that they receive at David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center.

Manatee Release Program

There's nothing more rewarding than when a manatee has fully recovered and is ready for to return back into its natural habitat. It is an awe-inspiring and often emotional moment for the team and our community when a manatee is released, sometimes after many years of care and rehabilitation. Since 1991, ZooTampa has successfully returned more than 280 manatees back to Florida waters.

Boat strike manatee patients released after months of intensive rehab at ZooTampa

We are proud to support and partner with
Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership

The manatee care team and vet staff treat a manatee patient at ZooTampa's manatee critical care center

David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center

Our David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center was the country's first non-profit, acute care facility of its kind specifically dedicated to critical care of wild manatees, and is one of just four manatee rehabilitation centers in the state of Florida.

As manatee patients recover, our visitors can see this life-saving care in real time in the recovery pools of Manatee Mangrove.

To enhance animal welfare and expand our mission to save Florida wildlife, we recently completed an upgrade to the water filtration system at our David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center. This upgraded life support system allows us to provide advanced, specialized care to our patients, and enables us to treat even the most severe cases.

Save the Manatee License Plate

When you buy a Save the Manatee license plate you're directly supporting the Save the Manatee Trust Fund. This fund is vital for research, rescue, and conservation activities related to Florida's manatees.

Learn more at FWC's website

A few of our Manatee Success Stories

Citrine the manatee recovers from cold stress at the ZooTampa manatee hospital


Citrine arrived to our critical care center in December 2020 after suffering from a severe case of cold stress which caused lesions all around her body and tail. Despite eating a diet made completely of aquatic vegetation, manatees can easily reach over 1,000 pounds. However, even with their large demeanor, manatees do not have a continuous layer of blubber like whales to stay warm. When aquatic temperatures drop below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and they’re not able to reach the warm waters of a Florida spring they can suffer from cold stress which causes the lesions. Three months into her treatment, Citrine looked like a completely different manatee and is on her way to a full recovery and eventual return back to Florida waters!

Obsidian the manatee is released back into its native Florida waters after more than a year of rehabilitation from cold stress

Obsidian & Slate

Obsidian and Slate were orphaned calves that were rescued together by FWC on February 2018 due to cold weather stress. After more than a year of rehabilitation and care here, the duo were finally healthy calves reaching a combined weight of more than 1200 pounds. In preparation for their release, our animal team provided the manatees with a natural diet to ensure they reached the appropriate weight and worked on their socialization to ensure a smooth transition to the wild. Releasing manatees in the winter helps set them up for better success as they can follow older manatees and learn how to migrate. Obsidian and Slate returned to Florida waters in December 2019.

Manatees Fern and Wilbur being released back into the wild by ZooTampa animal care team after rehabilitation from boat strike injuries

Fern & Wilbur

Fern and her dependent calf, Wilbur, came to us in May 2019 following a boat strike that caused severe injuries. When Fern arrived at the Zoo, she was suffering from broken ribs and a pneumothorax (air in her chest cavity). Due to her injuries, she was buoyant on the water’s surface and unable to submerge to get food. While in the care of our medical and animal care team, Fern received around-the-clock fluids and medications to keep her stable and comfortable. While Wilbur was able to eat the greens he needed and stay close to mom, the team worked tirelessly for almost two months on getting Fern to eat. By the end of the summer, she was finally showing signs of improvement and has spent the last six months gaining her strength, eating over 100 lbs. of produce daily. Fern and Wilbur’s journey ended with return back to their home waters of Charlotte County in January 2020.

Meet Our Heroes

It takes a team effort to rescue, treat and care for the manatee patients who come to our manatee hospital.

Veterinarians and members of the animal care team at ZooTampa work together to perform medical exams on a manatee patient

You Can Help
Save Our Manatees

Responsible boating

Be a Responsible Boater

We share our waterways with Florida's marine ecosystem, so it's important to use safe boating practices to protect the wildlife around us. As a personal watercraft operator, you should understand how your vessel can affect wildlife and habitat in order to operate your vessel in a way that minimizes ecosystem impacts.

Using a personal watercraft can disturb and damage prime habitat areas for manatees and other wildlife. More than a quarter of all manatee deaths across Florida are attributed to watercraft caused by blunt-force boat strikes or propeller cuts. Speed is a critical factor; the faster the watercraft is traveling, the more force is applied on impact.

How you can help

  • Abide by the posted speed zone signs while in areas known to be used by manatees or when observations indicate manatees might be present.
  • Wear polarized sunglasses to reduce glare on the surface of the water, which will enable you to see manatees more easily.
  • Avoid boating over seagrass beds and shallow areas. Manatees are often found in shallow, slow-moving rivers, estuaries, lagoons, and coastal areas.
  • Remain at least 50 feet away from a manatee when operating a powerboat.
  • Use marked channels when boating. Traveling in deeper channels reduces the likelihood of crushing or hitting manatees in shallow waters.
  • Never travel over a manatee, even in a paddle boat. Manatees must surface to breathe, and will become startled if you are in the way. Always give manatees space to move freely in their habitat.
  • Lower your anchor slowly when securing your vessel as there may be resting manatees below.
  • Please don't discard monofilament line, hooks, or any other litter into the water. Manatees and other wildlife may ingest or become entangled in this debris and can become injured or even die.
  • When a manatee is present you may notice: a swirl on the surface caused by the manatee when diving; seeing the animal's back, snout, tail, or flipper break the surface of the water; or hearing the animal when it surfaces to breathe.
The manatee care team and vet staff monitor and examine a manatee patient at the manatee critical care center in Tampa

Report Sick, Injured, Tagged or Tangled Manatees to FWC

If you see a manatee in the wild you think may be sick, injured, or in distress, or a manatee with a GPS tag, please contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is vital that you obtain immediate help for the animal. The sooner the animal is located and its condition is assessed, the better its chances for survival.

Contact FWC

Toll-free number: 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922)

On your cell phone dial: *FWC or #FWC

Send an email to:

Please be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is the exact location of the animal?
  • Is the manatee alive or dead?
  • Is the manatee tagged?
  • The color(s) of the bands present on the floating tag and the antenna
  • Any letters or numbers on the tag
  • How long have you been observing the manatee?
  • What is the approximate size of the manatee?
  • What is the location of the public boat ramp closest to the manatee?
  • Can you provide a contact number where you can be reached for further information?
  • The above information is the most important you can provide; however, any additional information will be helpful.

What to do if you hit a manatee while boating

If you strike a manatee with your boat contact Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission right away. Please be responsible for your actions while on the waterways and take immediate action if something does occur. You will not be cited if you accidentally collide with a manatee while obeying posted speed zone

Manatees are protected by federal law

The manatee is protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which makes it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. The manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states: "It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee."

Anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison.

Remember, these activities are illegal:

  • Giving food or water to manatees, or using food or water to attract manatees
  • Separating a mother and calf
  • Disturbing manatee mating herds
  • Pursuing or chasing manatees either while swimming or with a vessel
  • Disturbing resting manatees
  • Hitting, jumping on, standing on, holding on to or attempting to ride manatees
  • Blocking a manatee’s path
  • Fishing for or attempting to hook or catch a manatee

Help Conserve Florida's Manatees

Each ONE of us can make a difference in the preservation of the ONE world we share. We encourage you to be a conservation leader in your home, community, and around the world! Small actions you take can make a huge impact on protecting and preserving wildlife and wild places. Consider making a donation to ZooTampa. Your support helps provide crucial support for our animal care, education programs and wildlife conservation efforts.