Discovering travel patterns and habits of manatees helps researchers understand them and help State and Federal Agencies protect them. There are several different ways researchers track manatee travels.
Photo-Identification uses the unique pattern of markings on a manatee's trunk and tail fluke to identify an individual animal. In Florida, these markings are primarily scars from accidents encounters with boats; however entanglements in fishing gear, cold stress lesions, and fungal infections also can cause scarring. Photo histories allow scientist to tract manatees over time and provide information on the status of the Florida manatee.
Aerial distributional and synoptic surveys provide information on where manatees are found, how many are in a particular area, and how they use habitats and total population. Aerial distribution surveys are used to determine the where manatees are located at different times during the year and relative abundance of manatees. These surveys are most arial surveys that cover all the manatee's know wintering habitats in Florida. Manatees are counted during the coldest months because they congregate near warm-water sites. Synoptic surveys provide a population estimate for the Florida manatee throughout its whole range.
Researchers attach radio telemetry tags to manatees to observe travel patters. A belt, which is connected to a floating tag, is attached around the base of the tail. A satellite transmitter in the tag sends signals to weather satellites. Each tag has a different color band combination so manatees can be identified by sight. Researchers use the data to document behavior, associations with other manatees, and reproductive success of females.