Manatees are large, fully aquatic, mostly herbivorous marine mammals. They are sometimes referred to as sea cows. They are slow-moving, docile creatures; and they even have places where you can swim with them (see above). Fossil remains of the Florida manatee date back about 45 million years.
There are three main groups of manatees: Amazonian, West Indian and West African. I will be discussing the West Indian which inhabits the shallow, marshy coastal areas and rivers of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The West Indian manatee prefers warmer waters and cannot survive in water temperatures below 60 degrees. The northernmost range is the coast of Georgia.
Length is up to 13.1 feet long and weight can be as much as 1,300 pounds; and they feed on over 60 different fresh and saltwater plants. The Florida manatee can move freely from salt to fresh water. In winter they will seek out warm, spring-fed rivers and warm-water outflows of power plants along the Florida coast.
In January of 2016 the manatee status was downgraded from endangered to threatened. The main causes of death are habitat destruction and human objects such as boat propellers, ships, floodgates and getting caught in fishing nets. Many manatees have slash marks on their backs from propellers. Natural causes are adverse temperatures, predation of the young by crocodiles and the red tide.
I was thrilled to see a manatee on our last trip to the Florida Keys and Everglades. We stopped at a motel in the Everglades that was closed for the season and walked out onto the dock. A manatee was feeding on plant material right next to the dock. It was so close that I could have touched it. I did manage to get a couple of pictures of a snout breaking the water. What an exciting day that was!
Have you ever seen a manatee?
Video Credit: YouTube