Facts About Manatees in Florida
Manatees, also nicknamed ‘sea cows’, are gentle, plant-eating herbivores. They are closely related to elephants, aardvarks and hyraxes with have thick skin without any hair and streamlined bodies, with limbs that have been modified into flippers. Their tail is horizontally flattened and enlarged.
Today, Manatees are rare. Manatees in Florida comprise most of the dwindling population. With just about 2500 left inAmerica, they need to be preserved and can be considered an endangered species. They have been mistaken for sirens or mermaids by sailors, owing to their long tails. These gentle animals spend most of their time resting, traveling and feeding. They keep to canals, shallow salt water bays, coastal waters, moving rivers, and estuaries. With their well-adapted tail and flippers they can be quite agile creatures. They are capable of swimming vertically as well as upside down and use an up-and-down movement of their tail for forward propulsion. They are talented at performing aquatic somersaults and doing rolls. They can stay suspended at and below the surface of the water due to their extra bone density.
Manatees are known to grow more than 13 feet lengthwise and a weigh up to 3500 pounds. The average length is 10 to 12 feet and average weight is 1000 to 1500 pounds for adults. Despite their size, they do not have much fat, making them susceptible to the cold. They have sharp eyesight although their eyes are small, with a nictating membrane for extra protection. Hearing is also quite good, with large ear bones.
Manatees consume more than 60 varied plant varieties, both aquatic and semi-aquatic. Their diet is comprised of manatee grass, algae, water hyacinths, turtle grass and mangrove leaves. Around 10% of their body weight is consumed by them in vegetation on a daily basis. Their digestive system facilitates breakdown of cellulose by bacteria that reside in their hind gut. The intestines of these creatures are up to 150 feet long to accommodate the huge amount high-fibre food that they eat.
The reproductive rate of manatees is slow. Twins are very rare, with one calf being born every two to five years. New-born calves are around three to four feet long and weight about 60 to 70 pounds. They swim to the water surface to breathe, guided by their mothers. A couple of hours after birth, they begin suckling underwater.
Manatees in Florida are adapted to freshwater and saltwater habitats, being migratory animals. They are found naturally in Alabama, The Carolina’s and Virginian summers and off the west coast of Florida in the winters. You can catch manatee sightings on one of our Sarasota kayaking tours as well!