The Amazing Manatees Of Southern Florida
Most animals are awesome, but anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting a manatee knows they are in a class all by themselves. These southern Floridians are peaceful, curious, graceful and sometimes downright funny. Here's a brief Q and A that shows just how awesome they are and a little bit about the challenges they're facing.
Just What Is A Manatee?
Manatees are gracious aquatic mammals, called Trichechus manatus by scientists. They grow to about 9 feet tall and a whopping 1,000 pounds. At top speed, an adult can zoom through the water at nearly 20 miles per hour, but usually choose to cruise at around 5.
Often referred to as sea cows, these gentle creatures are fascinating subjects to observe. You might see one by itself, with a friend or a small crowd of about 5 others. While under water, all that is visible is the nose, which is why many boaters accidentally hit manatees. They can stay under for as long as 15 minutes while resting but usually surface every four or five while on the move.
When left on its own and not disturbed by the sharp whirl of motor blades or entangled in a fishing net, this noble sea dweller can live for over half a century.
What Does One Eat?
The manatee happily languishes through meal time, which takes up nearly 8 hours every day! They enjoy the sea grass and weeds, and don't mind taking in the algae as well. Since they are eating off the ocean floor, what enters their mouth will have grains of sand. Chewing this sand results in the eventual loss of teeth but fear not because they grow them back all throughout their adult lives.
A baby manatee, called a calf, will survive off its mother's milk until for the first few years of life.
Are Manatees Really People-Friendly?
A group of manatees is called an aggregation and if you are ever fortunate enough to observe one, you will notice gentle and affectionate behavior. They nudge and snuggle each other playfully and might do the same to you if you joined them in the water but as with any wild creature, it is best to remain a passive observer.
For example, quietly paddle a canoe through a calm river (they can switch from salt to fresh water with no problem!) in Southern Florida in late November and you may possibly spy a manatee nibbling at the bottom. Although it wouldn't bite you if you jumped in, keeping creatures wild keeps them alert to the possible dangers of other humans who may not have such innocent intentions.
If you are seriously craving a dip with these gentle giants, find a man-made habitat where, under controlled circumstances with a captive manatee, you can get your up close and personal encounter.
What Put Them On The Endangered Species List?
In earlier (more barbaric and less regulated) times, the manatee was hunted for its skin, bones and oils. Currently in the United States, they are protected by laws and adored by people. Unfortunately, however, hunting them is still permitted in other places.
Motor boats also pose an inherent danger which are often oblivious to the resting manatees just under the water's surface. Degradation of their feeding areas puts them in danger, especially with the heavy growth in Florida's coastal real estate industry.
Under the protection of the Federal Endangered Species act, it is a crime to do them any harm whatsoever, however, there is legislation that is taking them off of the endangered list and putting them onto the threatened list. While the long arm of the law has given them the chance to build back their population, in 2010 and 2013, hundreds mysteriously died off, leaving the manatee with less than 6,000 left. Interestingly and perhaps ominously, people are the only predators of the manatee.
Where Can You See A Manatee?
Manatees frequent shallow waters that move along as slowly as they do. Bays and rivers are perfect, since they're usually warmer. These mammals don't have layers of blubber to keep them cozy, so about the beginning of each November, they escape the colder winter waters of elsewhere to bask in Floridian sunshine.
When it's warmer, they can be seen as far up the coast as New England, but as soon as that mercury dips to below 70, they are off again for more comfortable regions.
How Can You Help Them?
Since knowledge is power, arm yourself with information. Make yourself and your social circles aware of the plight of the manatee and the people working to save them. You can support these politically active groups with financial donations or simply by promoting them on your favorite social media platform. Some are trying to have the manatee moved from "endangered" to "threatened" on the Federal list, which would provide them less protection. Additionally, their habitats are constantly threatened by human development, so you could protest with a letter to legislatures or your signature on petitions.
Of course, if you are ever operating a motorboat on waters where these awesome creatures reside, proceed slowly and with watchful eyes.
Other than the slight squeak of a weaning calf or the bubbles blown by a resting adult, the manatee is pretty quiet. Ultimately, that means the people who love and admire them must speak up! For such gentle, sweet and harmless creatures, they often find themselves on the front line of battle with their very lives on the line. Truly, the manatee is such an awesome being and everyone should appreciate them and do what it takes to keep them around. Once you meet one, you'll see!
Jonathan Leger is a member of the Garden Writer's Association and a gardening enthusiast. He is also a successful software developer and has created a number of software and service applications. He recently created a website where you can ask questions and receive answers from expert authors and researchers at AnswerThis.Co.