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Manatees 101



Destination: Warm Waters

What’s that in the distance? Its voice … it’s so soothing … and its shape – It’s not exactly human, but, after being away at sea for so long … could it be? Yes! It’s a mermaid!! Legend tells of sailors sighting mermaids on their long journeys in the South Seas – but what they most likely were seeing … were manatees!

Manatees are sirenians – and like whales, dolphins, and mythological mermaids, they never leave the water … however, they don’t have long hair, musical harps, or underwater kingdoms. Sirenians live in warm tropical waters. So if the water starts to get cold, the manatee is on the move – migrating to warmer temperatures.

Because of its greater density, water conducts heat away from the body 25 times faster than air! And although manatees are big, they’re not fat. They don’t have sufficient blubber to keep them warm. Water temperatures lower than 68 degrees can be fatal to manatees!

Leaving the shallow salt-water surroundings of the Gulf Coast, Florida manatees make their way to fresh-water rivers. Warm, bubbling springs keep the water at 72 degrees the entire winter – it’s a giant manatee Jacuzzi!

Herbiforific! The river is full of vegetation! Time for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and maybe a snack or two. Each day presents a full schedule of activity for the manatee. There’s 10-12 hours spent sleeping and resting, and 8 hours spent eating. That leaves around 4 hours for goofing off, socializing, traveling or maybe sleeping and eating some more!

Thanks to their low metabolism, manatees have to eat pounds and pounds of plants each day – enough to equal 10 to 15% of their body weight. For the average manatee that’s about 3 bathtubs full of spinach!!

Who can hold their breath longer? Don’t even try to compete with the manatee! It can hold its breath underwater for up to 20 minutes! Generally it surfaces to take a breath every 3 to 5 minutes.

How can a manatee hang ten? By bodysurfing, of course! Manatees love to ride the rushing currents caused by open floodgates. In spite of their huge size, manatees are incredibly graceful swimmers – their average speed being about 3-5 miles per hour. That’s really close to the average walking speed of humans!

Manatees don’t really have any real predators. Sharks or killer whales or alligators or crocodiles could eat them, but since they don’t usually inhabit the same waters, this is pretty rare. Their biggest threat is from humans. And because of this, all manatee species are endangered and threatened.