Florida Manatee Sightings
by: Davis Yancy Clegg
The Florida manatee has taken on the title of Florida’s state marine mammal. A manatee is very large aquatic relative of the elephant. They are grayish brown in color and have very thick, wrinkled skin. There is often a growth of Algae on their skin. They have two flippers in front and one flat flipper in back. The front flippers help the mammal to navigate through shallow waters. Their powerful flat tail helps to propel them through the water. While the Florida manatee’s eyes are very tiny, and its’ ears are not visible, it is thought to see and hear better than most! Manatees are sometimes called sea cows, and their languid pace lends merit to the comparison. However, despite their massive bulk, they are graceful swimmers in coastal waters and rivers. Powering themselves with their strong tails, manatees typically glide along at 5 miles (8 kilometers) an hour but can swim 15 miles (24 kilometers) an hour in short bursts. Manatees are usually seen alone, in pairs, or in small groups of a half dozen animals. From above the water’s surface, the animal’s nose and nostrils are often the only thing visible. Manatees never leave the water but, like all marine mammals, they must breathe air at the surface. A resting manatee can remain submerged for up to 15 minutes, but while swimming, it must surface every three or four minutes.
Like its’ fellow grazing animals, Florida Manatees play an important and invaluable role in influencing the plant growth in the shallow rivers, bays, estuaries, canals and coastal waters these animals call home. Though they are massive in size, Manatees are herbivores. This means that their diet consists mostly of sea grasses and freshwater vegetation. It’s little known that manatees only have molars. They are used for grinding food. When the mammal grinds them down to a certain point, the old teeth fall out and are replaced with new ones.
There is no precise way to measure size of the population of manatees in Florida. It is estimated that their population rests somewhere around 5,000 individuals. With numbers this low, the mammal is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, as well as the IUCN Red List. Manatees can be found in the warm waters of shallow rivers, bays, estuaries and coastal waters. Rarely do any of these creatures feel the urge to venture into waters hitting below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Manatees take up residence primarily in Florida’s coastal waters during winter. Some of them migrate as far north as the Carolinas or as far west as Louisiana in summer. Manatees were found as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts in recent years.
Well known for their gentle, slow-moving nature, manatees have also been known to body surf or barrel roll when playing. They rest and feed often. Manatees communicate by squealing under water to demonstrate fear, stress or excitement. They only breathe through their nostrils, since while they are underwater, their mouths are occupied with eating! A manatee’s lungs are 2/3 the length of its body.
Be sure to take care if you are out boating and come across one of our large and friendly Florida Manatees. They can often be seen hanging out around the dock where our river cruises depart from!
Make sure to say hello to our local Manatees at the harbor front before joining the River Cruise. (continue…)