Sometimes called sea cows, manatees are a large, but graceful, endangered species that thrive in warm-water environments ripe with vegetation. The West Indian manatee, one of three living species, can be spotted off the coast of Florida year round.
Here are ten things you may not know about manatees!
- Manatees are a migratory species, sometimes traveling up the East Coast in the warmer summer months—some have even been spotted in Maryland.
- These herbivores feed on patches of vegetation on the sea floor and can eat up to 1/10 of their body weight in just one day!
- With a diet sometimes rich in sand, Manatees’ teeth are made for grinding, not biting, and are constantly being replaced.
- Some waterways in Florida have manatee “speed zones” to protect these gentle creatures from boat collisions, one of the leading causes of injury and death in manatees.
- Manatees’ closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes, small mammals found in Africa and the Middle East.
- Slow moving, manatees typically travel at about 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim faster in short bursts.
- Some manatee species can travel freely between salt and freshwater.
- Manatees have to visit the surface for air, but can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes while at rest.
- Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers for up to two years. When a calf is born, its mother must help it to the surface for air, but most can swim on their own shortly after birth.
- It is believed that the legendary “mermaids” spotted by sailors throughout history were actually manatees.
Being the gentle, slow-moving animals that they are have put manatees at risk of extinction in the face of oil spills, increased motorboat traffic and entanglement. These animals were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and their population numbers have increased in recent years, but there is still much work to do protect manatees and the habitats they depend on.
To learn more about how to get involved in manatee conservation efforts in here in the United States, click here.