A review of the historical and recent (1970s-1980s) literature on the distribution, abundance, and mortality of West Indian manatees (Trichechus manatus) in the southern United States is presented. Recent unpublished data on mortality, Florida boat registrations, size of certain manatee wintering populations, and records outside of Florida are also given. Manatees never regularly occurred outside of Florida, except during the summer in Georgia. Current distribution is also limited largely to Florida and coastal Georgia in summer, with extralimital records in other southeastern states. In winter the range contracts and is centered around warm water sources in Florida. The historical record on past abundance is inconclusive, but does not provide any compelling evidence to claim that manatees ever nearly became extinct. There are no satisfactory means to estimate manatee population size. However, within Florida, manatees have become more widespread and possibly more abundant during the past 30 years due to protection, greater availability of warm water in winter, and in some areas, increased exotic vegetation. Deliberate killing for food was long a historical pressure on manatee populations in Florida, but is not almost non-existent. Nevertheless, recent increasing trends in accidental mortality caused by boats, coupled with an understanding of manatee population dynamics, suggests that the future for manatees is not secure. Ample justification exists for continued manatee conservation efforts.