Manatee Health Assessment and Biomedical Studies

Science Center Objects

A multi-agency effort assesses the health of manatees and provides baseline information on their health, reproductive status, and nutritional condition.

Manatee in natural habitat - WARC

Manatee in a Florida spring

The Science Issue and Relevance: Federal and state researchers have been involved in manatee (Trichechus manatus) biomedical health assessment programs for a couple of decades. Biologists and veterinarians have implemented training and encouraged multi-agency participation whenever possible to ensure consistency in data acquisition, recording, sample collection, publication integrity, and archival standards. Under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Research Permit (MA791721) granted to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Sirenia Project, federal biologists and collaborators are allowed to conduct up to 10 physiological research studies on wild and captive manatees detailing various aspects of their biology. This research initiative addresses concerns and priorities outlined in the Florida Manatee Recovery Plan. The assessment teams strive to continue this collaborative effort to help advance our understanding of health-related issues confronting the manatee throughout their range. 

Methodology for Addressing the Issue: Researchers with the project have been collaborating on numerous studies over the last several years. One extensive study, initiated in 2006, has focused on health and fitness of the winter manatee population located in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, in Crystal River, Florida. During those health assessments, training has been afforded to many participants. That study has successfully captured and handled over 200 manatees. Our team has experience in successfully handling more than 1100 wild, healthy manatees. The data gathered has provided baseline information on manatee health, reproductive status, and nutritional condition. Additional manatee health assessments have been coupled with other collaborative research projects in others parts of Florida, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Belize, and Mexico.

Health assessment of a manatee - WARC

Health assessment of a manatee

Future Steps: Additional health assessments are planned for manatee populations at different locations, with emphases focused along the Gulf of Mexico. These studies will establish the baseline biological, nutritional, and medical data necessary for future comparative studies addressing life history parameters and habitat carrying capacity issues. Genetics will continue to be used as a tool to address fitness and re-sighting capabilities in future generations of manatees. Collaboration with the USGS partners will be encouraged in order to advance our understanding of the biology of this endangered species.

Related Project(s): 

USFWS Florida and Puerto Rico Manatee Recovery Plans, USFWS West Indian Manatee 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation, USGS Manatee Individual Photo-identification System, Florida’s Manatee Carcass Recovery and Necropsy Program, USFWS Manatee Rescue, Rehabilitation, and Release Program.