The Florida manatee, Trichechus Manatus Latirostrus, is a gentle giant that can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh more than 2 tons. These “sea cows” as they have been commonly named, feed on sea grass, algae, and other marine vegetation found in shallow waters.
They are protected in Palm Beach County and, contrary to popular belief, they are common to these waters year round. The belief that manatees can only be spotted during winter months is due to the sharp increase in population during this time. In fact, Palm Beach County is a migratory destination for many manatees seeking warmer southern waters who migrate down from northern Florida and Georgia. This causes the manatee population to double every winter.
Manatees can be found in salt water, fresh water, and brackish water (where fresh and salt water mix). Because they are so versatile it is possible to spot a manatee in just about any shallow water location, you just need to know what to look for. According to the Department of Environmental Resources Management spotting mud plumes is a sure sign that a manatee is nearby. Mud plumes are dark circular swirls on the surface that are caused by a manatee feeding below. Chances are if you spot one of these you’re not far off.
Other than the Intracoastal Waterway there are plenty of manatee hotspots in the Palm Beach area. Since they are attracted to the warm shallow waters, more than 300 manatees have been spotted near the Florida Power and Light (FPL) Power Company. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Maurice Thomas coordinator of the biology department, the plant has not been open to the public for manatee viewing since terrorist attack on 9/11. Other hotspots include, Jupiter Sound, Loxahatchee River, MacArthur Beach State Park, and Lake Wayman Residential Canals. Some fresh water hotspots include, Earman River Canal, West Palm Beach canal, Boynton Canal, Hillsboro Canal, and the Waste Water Treatment plant off of PGA Boulevard. Peanut Island is also a popular manatee site. According to Marine Maritime grounds keeper Ruth Pelletier, the manatees enjoy the warm water of Peanut Islands east lagoon.
The fish and wildlife foundation and DEP warns manatee viewers that manatees are endangered and protected. Do not harass, chase, or feed manatees. Feeding can cause a disturbance in natural behavior and can put them in harms way of boaters and fisherman. Manatee viewing is encouraged but etiquette is a must as these giant mammals are delicate creatures. Manatees are protected under federal law which makes it illegal to disturb, feed, harass or in any way interfere with manatees normal activities. As manatees arrive in the Palm Beach area to enjoy the warm coastal waters it is our job to appreciate and protect them.