Clearwater Aquarium Monitors Manatees

Come be inspired and learn about the ongoing work of rescue, rehabilitation, and release at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. The marine life rescue center is home to Winter the Dolphin, star of the popular Dolphin Tale movies, filmed on location in Clearwater, Florida — just 90 minutes from Orlando. Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff and volunteers work each day to rescue marine life and provide the most advanced and effective care to maximize the opportunity to return sick or injured animals to their homes. Now, in addition,  Clearwater Aquarium monitors manatees.

Research and Conservation is an important part of the mission at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, most recently Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the proud recipient of a $17,098 grant from the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, announced on Nov. 21, 2019, to monitor manatee use of the Silver River. The project seeks to learn more about how manatees are using the river, how often they return to it and if it is optimal habitat for refuge.

“Clearwater Marine Aquarium is dedicated to preserving our environment and that begins with research and education,” said Dr. James “Buddy” Powell, VP of Research and Conservation. “With thanks to the Fish & Wildlife Foundation of Florida, we will be able to continue our mission by providing data that is vital to help preserve and protect the Silver River springs and the manatees that use them.”

Important Winter Refuge for Manatees

Manatees at Silver River. Photo credit: Nicole Barlett, CMA Research Assistant.

Thanks to a citizen sighting network, several manatees were observed using the Silver River, a tributary of the Ocklawaha River, during the winter of 2017-2018. Last winter the river hosted an increased number of manatees because of a loss in vegetation at nearby springs. This adaptation in the manatees’ behavior highlighted the importance of maintaining a diversity of warm water sites within the St. Johns River in case a catastrophic event occurs at one or more springs.

Healthy warm water sites benefit more than manatees. Increased tourism for manatee sightings provides economic opportunity for the communities and businesses near Silver River. However, additional tourists on the water present opportunities for conflict with manatees, decreasing the animal’s ability to feed or rest.

To mitigate these concerns, a key component of the project includes public education on the best practices for recreational viewing. Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s senior research scientist Monica Ross shared that “spotting a manatee is a cherished experience, but getting too close can be to their detriment, especially when they need to conserve energy for winter survival. Give a manatee at least 25 feet of space and never follow or pursue if they move away from you.”

“This project will not only help manatees in Sliver River now but has far-reaching, long-term benefits,” said foundation president and CEO Andrew Walker. “Ultimately this project will provide critical data to federal and state partners outlining a sustainable warm water network, helping to protect these habitats and the animals that depend on them.”

Help Protect Florida Springs

Photo credit: Steve Ando Photography

Grant funding came from the “Protect Florida Springs” license plate containing the image of a scuba diver. $25 from each purchase of the springs tag supports the research, conservation, and restoration of Florida’s freshwater springs. Grants were approved by the foundation board of directors at its September 30 meeting. This funding follows a recent partnership with The Nature Conservancy that involved a $120,000 commitment to study manatees in the Panhandle and improve their habitat at Warm Mineral Springs.

Join them as they celebrate the holiday season for Winter’s Wonderland through January 6th. Featuring seasonal lights, decorations, holiday-themed animal habitats, a Sea of Lights boat tour, and a kid’s fun zone in the 3rd-floor classrooms as they educate the little ones on penguins and polar bears. Check out the website at for hours and information, or to add on an educational boat tour on Clearwater Bay! CMA is located adjacent to TripAdvisor’s #1 Beach in the United States only 90 miles from Orlando.

All marine turtle footage taken in Florida was obtained with the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under conditions not harmful to marine turtles. The footage was acquired while conducting authorized conservation activities pursuant to FWC MTP-19-172.