Appreciating a longtime Downtown resident, the Florida Manatee

Photo credit: Carol Grant / Getty Images
Photo credit: Carol Grant/Getty Images

Downtown’s oldest residents might be half-ton mammals who love to swim and eat their veggies.

According to Dr. Quinton White, executive director of Jacksonville University’s Marine Science Research Institute, these hefty herbivores – the Florida manatee – have existed in the St. Johns River, including Downtown, for as long as the river’s existed.

To recognize Manatee Appreciation Day yesterday, we asked Dr. White to share a few tips on how you can spot a manatee Downtown and how you can help protect this endangered specie. He and his colleague, Dr. Gerry Pinto, gave us the scoop:

What time of year is best to spot manatees Downtown?

As the Downtown area was filled and developed, they have become harder to see. We do occasionally see them swimming through Downtown – you have to look sharp, or you’ll miss them.

Manatees are in the Northeast Florida region from mid-March to late November. You are most likely to see them in the mid-March to late April time period and again in September and October. This is when they tend to move through the area as they go to and from their winter habitat south of Jacksonville.

Are there any tricks or tips for spotting them during this time?

You’ll want to wear polarized sunglasses and watch for either the head or back of the manatee breaking the water – or swirls on the water when their tail flukes are near the surface. You can sometimes guess the direction they are moving and will see them break the surface again after three to five minutes when they surface again to breath. If you are in a quiet area and close enough to a manatee, you may hear it taking a breath of air as it breaks the water’s surface.

What can we do to “appreciate” these animals even more – how can we help protect them?

If you are in a boat, wear polarized sunglasses to better see the manatees by reducing the glare of the water. Also, go slow, especially near shore and in manatee zones. If you do see one from a boat or the shore, don’t attempt to approach, feed or give them fresh water – it’s against the law.

MOSH's "Atlantic Tails" exhibit.
MOSH’s “Atlantic Tails” exhibit.

Everyone can do their part by reducing the use of fertilizers when watering their lawns. Anything we do to improve water quality in the St. Johns River benefits both the manatees and us. Prevent trash like monofilament fishing line and plastic bags from getting into the waterways because these things can injure wildlife, including manatees.

Also, if you see an injured manatee, abandoned calf, other wildlife in trouble (like turtles or dolphins), call the Florida Fish and Wildlife
Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922 to report it.


Want to learn even more about the manatees and their Downtown home? Just yards from the banks of the St. Johns River at the Museum of Science and History, the “Atlantic Tails” exhibit spotlights marine life that live in the Jacksonville area.

Happy manatee-sighting from Jacksonville’s urban jungle!