A manatee has a face only Mother Nature could love. Once you meet a manatee, you’re hooked. As the official marine mammal of the state of Florida, manatees are nearsighted, slow-moving herbivores that average about 10 ft in length and weigh in at roughly 1,200 lbs. Amazingly, considering their size, manatees are remarkably gentle. They are not territorial and they have no natural enemies and no known agenda; they pretty much just swim, sleep and eat. Small numbers of them do frequent the Weeki Wachee River, where they may swim the entire length of the river and into the spring.
- Three species: West Indian manatee, African manatee, Amazonian manatee.
- Also known as ‘sea cows’.
- 2,500 West Indian manatees remain in the wild.
- Live to be more than 28 years old in the wild.
- Closest living relative is the elephant.
- Both the Florida manatee and the Antillean manatee are endangered.
- Unable to tolerate water temperatures below 68°F (20°C).
- Adult length: 9-10 ft (280-300 cm).
- Adult speed: 3-5 mph (5-8 km/h).
- Weight: 850-1200 lbs (400-550 kg), 65 lbs (30 kg) for a newborn. 4-4.5 ft long.
- Eat up to 10%-15% of their body weight (100 lbs / 50 kg) per day.
- Graze for up to 7 hours a day.
- Feed on about 60 plant species, including sea grasses, but also some fish and small invertebrates.
- Breed once every 2 years; generally only a single calf is born.
- Pregnancy lasts 12-14 months and a further 12-18 months to wean the calf.
- West Indian manatee found in freshwater rivers and in coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean.
- Protected by the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.
- Do not stir up river bottom sediments.
- Practice manatee-friendly behavior.
- Be a passive observer.
- Avoid excessive noise and splashing.
- Use snorkel gear.
- Never chase, poke or surround manatees.
- Never separate a calf from its mother.
- Never separate an individual manatee from its group.
- Never feed manatees or give them water.
- Take only as many photos for which the manatees will pose.
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