Florida Manatee, sometimes referred to as “Sea Cows” are frequent sights around the Adventure Coast, particularly in the 74 degree Weeki Wachee River. You already know that these gentle marine mammals are large – generally about 10 feet long, 800 to 1200 pounds – and gray in color like their distant elephant cousins. But did you know that the bones in a manatee’s flippers are similar to finger bones in human hands?
This affords flexibility to propel through the water, hold onto objects and to manipulate food into their mouth. They even have three or four nails on the end of each flipper.
Here are 7 more fascinating facts about the West Indian Manatee:
1. Manatee are found in bothfresh and saltwater environments. They prefer water around six to seven feet deep in slow moving rivers, estuaries, bays, coastal areas and canals. Vulnerable to cold stress syndrome, they seek water above about 68 degrees.
2. Manatee are part of the order Sirenia. The term Sirenia is a reference to the mythical “siren” of Homer’s Odyssey, a beautiful mermaid who lured sailors to treacherous waters and reefs.
3. Because manatee are docile herbivores, grazing on various aquatic plants, they have only molars for teeth. As these teeth are worn down from grinding up the vegetation, they are replaced with new ones growing in from the back. Teeth are replaced back-to-front throughout the manatee’s life.
4. Manatee usually give birth in the winter after a 13 month gestation, and only to a single calf every two to five years. Mothers nurse their young from beneath their flipper for up to two years, during which time the calf and mother are inseparable.
5. Unlike most mammals with lungs beneath the ribcage, lungs of a manatee lie along its backbone. To help facilitate lengthy underwater periods, the lungs are long and also function as buoyancy control. Breathing occurs through a pair of nostrils located on top of the nose which close off when diving. When a breath is taken, 90% of the air in the lungs is refreshed, compared with about 10% in humans. This allows the manatee to make more efficient use of its trips to the surface. Manatee normally breathe every 2 to 5 minutes, but can stay submerged for as long as 20 minutes if necessary.
6. When manatee aren’t eating or resting, they are playing. When sleeping, the manatee lies motionless on the bottom, but has to surface for a breath every few minutes. With as little effort as possible, the manatee will surface, breathe, and settle right back to the bottom. When playing, manatee sometimes chase each other, rub each other, or just roll over and over.
7. Manatee can be curious and will sometimes pop their heads up next to boats to check out their human company. Sharing the waterways in this manner, combined with the gentle inquisitive nature of the manatee can be dangerous to them. This is why boaters are urged to exercise great care in the shallow coastal areas, home to manatee year round, and particularly in the winter months with many mothers and calves sharing the waterways.
Out on the water? Observe No Wake Zones and watch carefully for manatee at or near the surface. With no natural predators, boat encounters and habitat incursion are the main obstacles to life spans as long as 60+ years.
If you see a sick, injured, deceased or tagged manatee, call the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Toll-Free Number 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922)
Cellular phone customers: *FWC or #FWC
Save the Manatee Club