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April 19, 2018  |  Login

Florida Manatee
Trichechus manatus latirostrus

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What Are They Like?

Florida manatees, also called “sea cows,” are gentle and slow-moving, spending most of their time eating, resting or traveling in slow-moving rivers and canals at leisurely speeds of 3-5 miles per hour (4.8-8 kilometers per hour). Manatees can live up to 60 years in the wild, and are the only herbivorous mammal to spends their entire life in the water. Aquatic relatives of the elephant, manatees have a wrinkled face and head, and whiskers on their snout. They average between 10 and 12 feet (3-3.6 meters) in length and weigh between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds (680.4-816.5 kilograms). Even with their huge size, they are able to glide smoothly through the water with the help of their two front flippers and powerful, paddle-shaped tail. Manatees have small eyes, and no outer ears. They rarely have more than six teeth in their mouth at any given time; when old teeth become ground down and fall out, new ones usually grow back. Algae often grows on manatees’ thick, wrinkled skin.

Where Do They Live?

Manatees can be found in freshwater, brackish and saltwater habitats. Because they cannot survive very long in water below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius), manatees tend to congregate in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters off the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In the winter, they frequent warm water springs and man-made sources of warm water such as power plant discharges to stay warm.

Did You Know?
Manatees can consume 7.5% of their body weight in vegetation every day.

How Are Babies Made?

Female manatees are sexually mature at the age of five, and males at the age of seven. Adult females give birth to a calf only once every three years, after a pregnancy of about a year. Newborn manatee calves weigh between 60-70 pounds (27.2-31.75 kilograms), and measure from 3-4 feet (.9-1.2 meters) long. Calves nurse underwater from their mother’s breast milk for their first 12 to 18 months of life.

What Do They Eat?

Manatees are completely herbivorous, Manatees depend on seagrass and other aquatic vegetation for food.

Did You Know?
Manatees are the state of Florida’s official marine animal.

What Do They Do?

Manatees generally swim at a rate of three to five miles per hour, although in short bursts they have been known to swim at up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour). Manatees’ lungs are extremely large, taking up two-thirds of their bodies. Because they are mammals, they must surface to breathe air. They breathe primarily out of their nostrils. They may rest submerged at the bottom or just below the surface of the water, coming up to breathe on an average of every three to five minutes. When manatees are using a great deal of energy, they may surface to breathe as often as every 30 seconds. When resting, manatees have been known to stay submerged for up to 20 minutes.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the manatee as “endangered.” Right now the biggest threat to manatees is the loss of access to reliable warm water habitats that allow manatees to survive the cold in winter. In December 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that the manatee population in Florida was around 3,800, but that was before the brutally cold winter of 2009-10, which claimed at least 220 manatees that were found dead from cold-stress. Another serious threat facing manatees is injury and death resulting from collisions with watercraft. Other human causes of manatee deaths include being crushed or drowned in canal locks and flood gates; ingestion of fish hooks, litter and fishing line; and entanglement in crab trap lines.

What's Being Done?

Manatees are protected by the United States government under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  Organizations such as The Nature Conservancy are taking action to ensure the survival of the manatee. They have implemented a freshwater spring restoration program that is poised to increase the manatee’s survival odds by reducing the amount of sediment build up and man-made obstructions that prevent manatees from reaching the warm waters at several Florida springs.


Beating the Odds – Safeguarding the Florida Manatee’s Winter Habitat

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