Florida Manatee (Trichechus Manatus Latirostris)
Manatees are gentle creatures that some call Sea Cows
Photo Credit flipflopnana
What Do Manatee Look Like?
They are dark gray and wrinkly with very little hair. They have a narrow tail that moves up and down to swim. They have two small flippers in their upper body, which they use to help them eat and to steer when they swim. They have nails like finger nails at the end of each flipper.
What Is A Manatee?
Manatees are large swimming mammals. There are 4 kinds Amazonian, West African, Antillean, and Florida Manatee.
Amazonian are the smallest. They grow as long as a soccer goal is tall. Others are larger they can grow to be as long as a minivan.
The Florida Manatee and the Antillean Manatee are subspecies of the West Indian Manatee. There are 2 other species of manatee. They are West African and Amazonian. All 3 resemble each other. Like the West Indian Manatee the Amazonian are endangered. West African Manatee are in slightly better shape. The US Fish and Wildlife Service list the species as threatened.
Weight ~~~ 800-1200 Pounds
Length ~~~ 9-12 Feet
Lifespan ~ 60-70 Years
Sirenians Of The World
The West Indian manatee belongs to the scientific order Sirenia and the Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. Other sirenians include the Amazonian manatee, dugong, Steller's sea cow (extinct), and West African manatee.
Outside of Florida, not much is known about the population of West Indian manatees or other sirenians in the world. By far, the largest population of West Indian manatees is found in the United States, primarily in Florida. Elsewhere, they are found in small population pockets throughout their range. All sirenian species in the world are listed as endangered or vulnerable by the World Conservation Union.
Members of the extant order Sirenia are found in aquatic habitats throughout the tropics and subtropics. Sirenians are the only completely aquatic mammals that are herbivores. Because of their herbivorous nature, all sirenians are found in relatively shallow waters where sunlight can penetrate and stimulate plant growth.
In ancient mythology, "siren" was a term used for monsters or sea nymphs who lured sailors and their ships to treacherous rocks and shipwreck with mesmerizing songs.
No, manatees may not be as beautiful as mermaids, but the gentle, fun loving mammals are beautiful in their own right
Florida manatees are a subspecies of the West Indian Manatee. Their numbers were once so big that pirates and sailors at first mistook the one thousand pound mammals for mermaids the mythical half-human half-fish sea creatures. The large mammals swim gracefully and effortlessly much like the mermaids depicted in cartoons and movies.
In fact even Christopher Columbus claimed to have seen mermaids in the Caribbean Sea on his way to the West Indies. He told friends however that these "mermaids" were not as beautiful as he had seen in paintings. What Columbus possibly saw were colonies of manatee.
Florida manatees rarely venture into deep ocean waters. However there are reports of manatees in locations as far offshore as the Dry Tortugas Islands, approximately 50 miles west of Key West Florida.
Origin of The Manatees
Strangely enough, the animal that many experts say is the closest relative to the manatee is actually the elephant. Some scientists believe that manatees were once land dwelling animals and that about 50 million years ago they left land for the sea. They continue to breathe air but slowly developed their bodies for life in the water.
The reason scientists say that manatees are related to elephants is because they share so many of the same special characteristics. Apparently elephants and manatees have the same types of toenails, teeth, digestive systems, mouth parts, skin, location of mammary glands, and hair. Unfortunately the manatee also shares another thing in common with one group of elephants, the Asian elephant. They are both listed as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
Manatees Should Be Considered Florida Natives
There are some that believe Manatees are not a Florida indigenous specious. That they were imported into the state in the early part of the 20th century. The fact is that fossil remains of manatee ancestors show they have inhabited Florida for at least 45 million years. Modern manatees have been in Florida for over one million years (probably with intermittent absences during the Ice Ages). Which is a lot longer than people have lived here. The present Florida manatee is a subspecies endemic to Florida. Genetic studies to date indicate that it is not derived from the populations in Mexico or Central America, but more likely colonized Florida from the Greater Antilles thousand of years ago, after the last Ice Age. However, there is no evidence that manatees are now entering Florida from Central America, the Caribbean, or anywhere else. The manatees in Florida today have every right to be considered Florida natives.
Where Can Manatee Be Found?
Manatees live in warm tropical waters. They live in rivers, canals, oceans and other places that are full of water plants. The live in freshwater, saltwater oceans and a mixture of the two called brackish. As long as it is warm they are happy. Warm water is very important to their survival. A sudden harsh winter can turn the water cold and kill many manatees.
Manatees prefer to remain in water that is between 3 - 7 feet deep and hardly ever go out into water that is 20 feet deep or more.
West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus)
Subspecies: Florida Manatee (Trichechus latirostris), Antillean Manatee (Trichechus manatus manatus)
Florida manatees are found in the southeaster United States, mostly in Florida. Antillean manatees are found in the coastal and inland waterways of eastern Mexico, Central America, the Greater Antilles, and along the northern and eastern coasts of South America. Both Florida manatees and Antillean manatees can be found in salt, fresh or brackish waters and fee on marine, estuarine, and freshwater vegetation.
Amazonian Manatee (Trichechus inunguis}
Amazonian manatees are found in the waters of the Amazon River and its tributaries in South America. The smallest member of the family Trichechidae, the Amazonian manatee has smooth skin and no nails on its flippers and feeds on freshwater vegetation.
West African Manatee (Trichechus senegalensis)
The West African manatee is very similar in size and appearance to the West Indian manatee and lives in a similar habitat. West African manatees are found in West African coastal areas, but little is known about this species because they have not been widely studied.
Dugong (Dugong dugon)
Dugongs are found in the Indo-Pacific region of the world. They have smooth skin and a notched tail fluke. The feed on seagrasses and are hunted for food by humans. Dugongs have tusks, but these tusks characteristically erupt through the gums only in males and normally remain unerupted in female dugongs.
Steller's Sea Cow (Hydrodamalis gigas)
At one time, the Steller's sea cow was found in the cold waters of the Bering Sea, but it was hunted to extinction within 27 years of its discovery in 1741. The largest sirenian on record, the Steller's sea cow grew up to 30 feet in length and weighed approximately 4.4 tons or 8,818 pounds.
What Kind Of Diet Do Manatee Need To Thrive?
Manatees are not only unique because of how they look. They are different because they are the only sea mammals that eat only vegetables. Manatees by constantly feeding on sea grasses help to keep the coastal waterways in Florida clear of heavy vegetation.
They typically reach 10 feet in length but have been known to grow as long as 14 feet. At maturity they weigh about 1000 pounds. An adult can eat about 110 pounds of food in a single day or about 9 percent of its body weight in wet vegetation. They typically eat 6 - 8 hours a day. That is a lot of sea grass that needs to be eaten to keep a family of manatees alive. That is why they favor warmer coastal waters, like Florida, where thick water vegetation grows year round.
The manatees make good use of their strong lips. They can move each lip separately. This helps them to grasp and then tear the underwater plants. Sometimes they will dig down with their flippers to dig out an entire plant and eat the whole thing.
A Baby manatee call a calf drinks its mother's milk underwater until they are about a year old. They stay with their mothers for up to two years. They learn how to find food and warm places to rest or hide. They stay close to their mothers most of the time. When it has to go to the surface to breathe they make unique sounds so that its mother always knows where it is.
Easy To Fall In Love With
To Look Thru A Manatees Eyes.
Manatees have small eyes which are excellent for close vision for short distances. This is especially important since they spend most of their time in cloudy and muddy waters. Because of their eyes being so small they don't have good vision for distances. This means they cannot see an oncoming boat until it is very close to the animal which puts the manatee in danger. They can see the same in dim light and bright light, daytime and nighttime.
Just Where Are The Manatees Ears?
What the manatee lacks in distance vision however, it makes up for with incredible hearing. This is remarkable because when you look at a manatee, there seems to be something missing, EARS! In fact, manatees are able to hear from tiny holes just behind their eyes. These little holes seem to work best underwater where sound travels six times better than it does in the air. Hearing is especially important for manatee mothers and their calves. The two often make sounds to each other so they always know where the other is. This is important in keeping them together. There are some scientists who feel that manatees do not hear from the holes behind their eyes but rather from an area near their large cheekbones. The manatee's cheekbones are large and oily and come in direct contact with the animals ear bones. More research is being done to determine exactly how the animal is able to hear.
Manatee's fine hearing though is not too helpful to them when it comes to avoiding boats. The loud noise from a boats engine scares manatees. The manatees react by heading to the surface of the water. That is where they are in the most danger of getting hit by a boats propeller
Their Falling Numbers!!
Florida Manatees are very slow swimmers and they are hard to see in the water. Many are injured by boats and ships every year. There has been a lot of building in manatee habitats. They are losing their food supply and home. Sometimes they swim into lock gates and get trapped and crushed. Scientists think that there are only about 2000 Florida Manatee left. All types of manatee are endangered. Now, it seems as if the manatee's future lies in the hands of humankind.
What Are The Threats To The Manatee?
Humans have a special responsibility when dealing with the delicate balance of nature. It is ultimately up to us to decide how much of a forest to cut down for wood, when to drain a lake in order to build more houses, or when to put a ban on catching certain types of fish.
Loss of their habitat due to new home construction, hunting and pollution has all had a hand in endangering the manatee.
Water pollution in recent years has resulted in more red tides. Red tides are caused by an increase in types of algae that release toxins. This occurs naturally every few years. Many times this has no effect on manatees at all. Scientists, however, believe that in recent years pollution has caused red tides to become more toxic. The toxicity of the red tides results in manatee dying as well. Experts say that 20 percent of Florida's manatee population was lost in 1996 when an extremely strong red tide swept through the waters.
Learn All About Manatees
Some scientists believe that sharks may also feed on manatees. However, there is little research on the topic. There is a much bigger threat to the survival of manatees. In addition to water pollution, red tides, and sharks, the biggest threat to survival of the manatees lies directly with Florida's boating community.
So Graceful and Beautiful
Many people move to Florida or vacation there because of the year round warm weather. This is perfect for those who enjoy boating. The only problem is that boats and manatees often share the same waterways and canals. Many times boats and manatees will collide, and this is a battle the boat will win every time.
In fact, 90 percent of manatee deaths are attributed to collisions with boats. Many of Florida's remaining manatees have visible scars caused by painful collisions with boat propellers. Theses scars usually heal, and many times the animals are fine. However, if the propeller cuts too close to a vital organ, such as the lungs or heart, then the animal will die.
Scientists have even started to recognize certain manatees by the scar markings they have on their backs. Since manatees spend up to twelve hours of their day sleeping, many become startled when a speeding boat is approaching. Sleeping manatees are often found near the surface and are in great danger from boats. Remember, manatees have trouble seeing great distances, so they become confused when a loud boat is chugging along. Many times this prevents the animal from getting out of the way. What makes things even more dangerous for manatees is that many of them like to hang around marinas where they suck vegetation off the piers. Sometimes, they like to scratch their backs by rubbing themselves on the bottom of boats. Unsuspecting boaters then start their engines and the propellers hurt the gentle mammals.
Throughout Florida's waterways there are signs reminding boaters that manatees maybe present. Manatee safety and boating has become a very political issue in Florida. The state and local governments have taken over in an effort to keep the boating community happy while maintaining a strong manatee population
Momma & Baby Manatee
Our trip to Blue Springs on January 31, 2009. There was a reported 98 manatee on this day.
How Is The Florida Manatee Being Helped?
The state of Florida is actively working to pass legislation to help protect the manatee. The large boating community in Florida has sometimes posed a big challenge to lawmakers working to keep the water mammal safe. The main cause of death or injury to manatees remains collisions with boats. As a result, the government has put in place various warnings and regulations regarding the speed of boats.
Statistics vary, but the number of manatee deaths each year cased by boat collisions ranges from 35 to 50 percent of all manatee deaths. Some of the regulations involve what is called idle speed for boats. This is a very slow speed at which boats must travel through a manatee protection zone. There are also slow speed zones where boats are allowed to travel a little bit fasters but are still prohibited from creating a wake. A wake is a small wave created when a boat goes by at a fast speed. Wakes make it almost impossible to see the manatees swimming just below the surface.
Boaters are encouraged to wear polarized sunglasses. These glasses eliminate the glare from the sun and allow the boater to see just below the water's surface. Boaters are also encouraged to keep their boats traveling in deep water channels. They must avoid boating over sea grass beds and other shallow areas where manatees may be feeding. Boaters are also asked to be alert and watchful. They are asked to keep a sharp lookout for snout, back, or tail that may signal the presence of a manatee. Also, they are encouraged to report injured or sick manatees.
Boaters will even occasionally see a sign that reads: No Entry: Manatee Refuge. This is a protected zone that keeps boaters, swimmers, or divers from entering an area where manatees are known to be.
"More than one million watercraft operators use Florida's waterways annually and the popularity of watercraft recreation is continuing to grow," said Jay Slack, field supervisor of the Ecological Services Office for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Vero Beach, Florida. "Trying to protect manatees from watercraft collisions is one of the most important things we can do to help recover the manatee."
Jay Slack has also said that "Increased manatee speed zone enforcement is the most important conservation effort we can take to get to a point where life threatening collisions between manatees and boats are unlikely to occur." He added that boater watchfulness is only one of the numerous factors that need to fall into place to help the mammal recover from danger. "No one activity alone can recover the manatee. We must work together as a community to recover the manatee.
DO NOT FEED THE MANATEE!!
Restrictions are not limited to boaters. People wishing the manatees well, and curious tourists, sometimes pose a risk to the animal's well being. Some people like to feed manatees things like lettuce, or give them a drink of water from a hose. In doing so, they do not realized that they might be encouraging the manatee to swim by and near people who may be cruel to them or wish to hurt them. Also, sometimes manatees may get used to being fed lettuce and water and may start hanging around waiting for more. This can disrupt the manatees' normal feeding patterns and behavior. The animals then become dependent on humans for survival. They may forget how to find their own food or freshwater on their own.
According to conservation officials, feeding manatees is actually considered a form of harassment and so it is against the law. Signs are normally posted where manatees are known to gather. These signs remind visitors that the best way to enjoy manatees is to look but not touch. The signs explained that observing manatees from a distance is a rare opportunity to see the natural behavior of this unique animal.
Help Safeguard Manatees From Harm
This is a great article on Save The Manatee's Website about what you can do to help keep Florida's Manatees Wild. This is a definite must read for anyone you may be encountering Manatees. The message is a very simple one "you can look, but please don't touch, chase, give water, or feed us." Manatees are after all wild animals and not domestic animals, they naturally can find food and fresh water for themselves.
Other Must Sees!!!
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972
The manatee is protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which make it illegal to harass, hunt, capture or kill any marine mammal. the manatee is also protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, which states: "It is unlawful for any person, at any time, intentionally or negligently, to annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee."
Anyone convicted of violating this state law faces a possible maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment for up to 60 days. Conviction on the federal level is punishable by fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison. The State of Florida can pursue prosecution under federal law in circumstances of extreme harassment, resulting in the death or injury of a manatee.
WHAT WE CAN DO TO HELP FLORIDA MANATEES
If you and your friends raise money for the Florida manatees you can send it to these organizations. They take the money and use it to buy land, to pay conservation workers, and to buy tools to help save the Florida Manatee.
Defenders of Wildlife
1101 Fourteenth Street N.W. #1400
Washington, DC 20005
Save the Manatee Club
500 N. Maitland Ave
Maitland, FL 32751
World Wildlife Fund
1250 Twenty-Fourth Street
Washington, DC 2077-7180
What To And Not To Do When Observing Manatee
Do You Want To See Manatees Living In The Wild?
There are lots of places in Florida to observe manatees. In the winter when the weather is cooler, generally November through March, you might be able to see manatees in the wild, clustered around warm water sources:
FLORIDA'S EAST COAST:
Blue Spring State Park
Manatee Observation & Education Center
FPL's Manatee Webcam
FLORIDA'S WEST COAST:
Tampa Electric Company Manatee Viewing Center
Lee County Manatee Park
To See Manatees Living In Captivity
If the weather is warmer, manatees are more widely dispersed. A few manatees may range as far north as Massachusetts and as far west as Texas during the summer months, but these sightings are rare. Summer sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are relatively common. From April through October, you will probably only be able to see manatees at captive facilities.
FLORIDA'S WEST COAST:
Lowry Park Zoo
Parker Manatee Aquarium South Florida Museum
The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot/Walt Disney World
FLORIDA'S EAST COAST:
To See Manatees Outside of Florida:
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Save The Mantaee Club
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