Manatee (Trichechus manatus)
Size: Length 8 to 15 ft., weight 300 to 3,000 lbs.
Characteristics: Nocturnal, slow, cautious.
Area: The waters of southwestern U.S. to West Indies and along the coast of northern South America.
Offspring: 1 offspring every other year at most. On rare occasions, twins may occur.
Predators: None, besides man.
· Their closest evolutionary ties are with elephants.
· The Steller Sea Cow, a Pacific relative of the manatee, became extinct in the 1700s.
· Manatees have blue or brown eyes and see colour.
· They use their flippers to clean their teeth and rub their sides.
Manatees are harmless animals whose only defense is to flee when in danger. They are considered the most peaceful animals on earth, because of their calm demeanor. Scientists who have studied this gentle giant report that the manatee never displays any signs of anger or aggression. Manatees surface every few minutes to breathe, even while asleep. They are social animals and upon meeting another manatee, will greet by embracing them in a hug and locking lips. They eat all kinds of aquatic vegetation, especially sea grass, consuming large quantities each day which helps keep waterways free and flowing. Manatee deaths average 100 per year and the manatee population is currently less than 2,000, making them very endangered. Because manatees move very slowly and sleep near the surface, they’re often caught in the propellers of boats, sustaining fatal injuries.
The largest population of manatees is found in Florida. There are three related species—the West Indian manatee, the Amazonian manatee and the West African manatee. They can be found in slow moving rivers, estuaries, bays, canals, and in the coastal waterways of Central and South America. Manatees have a low metabolic rate and cannot survive in water below 46F. Water temperatures of 68F and above are preferred, as they are subject to hypothermia.
A manatee mother is very affectionate with her calf and will spend hours playing with it, which includes giving it rides on her back. The pregnancy lasts 13 months, and a baby manatee weighs 35 to 60 pounds and measures from three to four feet long. Babies nurse for up to two years, and it takes five to nine years before a manatee becomes fully mature. The high death rate of manatees due to boats, hypothermia and red tide poisonings outnumbers the birth rate, which has led this docile animal to become one of the most endangered aquatic species, although recovery programs are currently in place. Manatees can live for 30 years or more.