Manatee are large, fully aquatic mammals that are sometime known as sea cows. The name manatee comes from the Taino, a pre columbian people of the Caribbean meaning breast. They mostly eat plants and are really docile. A mature Manatee weighs from 800 to 1200 pounds and is 8 to almost 10 feet long and up to 3 and 4 feet wide. They have a large flexible upper lip that they use to gather food and eat. It is also use in social interactions and communications. Their small widely spaced eyes have eyelids that close in a circular manner. The adults have no incisor or canine teeth just a set of cheek teeth. Uniquely among mammals these teeth are replaced throughout their life, with new teeth growing at the rear as old teeth fall out from farther forward in the mouth. At any given time a manatee will have no more then six teeth in each jaw of it's mouth. It has a large paddle tail and overall is a really interesting animal to see.
Half their day is spent sleeping surfacing for air at no more then twenty minute intervals. They spend most of their day grazing in shallow water of 3 to 6 feet. The Florida manatee has been known to live up to 60 years.
Manatee swim at about 3 to 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim as fast as 19 miles per hour in short spurts.
They demonstrate complex discrimination and task learning similar to dolphins.
They typically breed once every two years. Gestation is 12 months and it takes another 12 to 18 months to wean the calf. Other then its calf manatees are generally solitary creatures.
They emit a wide range of sounds used in communications especially between cows and calfs. Adults communicate to maintain contact and during sexual and play behaviors. Taste and smell as well as sight, sound and touch, may also be used in communication.
Being vegetarians they eat over 60 species of plants, an adult eating up to 10% of it's body weight per day.
They have few natural predator although sharks, alligators and crocodiles have been known to prey on manatees from time to time.
So what is the main causes of death for the manatee?? Human related issues !! Are you surprised? Destruction of their habitant and being hit by boats and ships are two such examples.
Manatees are the gentle giants of the sea, often called sea-cows. These slow-moving herbivors are relatives of the elephant, although they look like walruses sans tusks. In winter, they migrate to warm coastal waters around Florida and Georgia. People come from all over to see these amazing creatures who congregate in protected areas such as Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park, and Chassahowitzga National Wildlife Refuge.
Their slow-moving, curious nature, coupled with dense coastal development, has led to many violent collisions with propellers from fast moving recreational motor boats, leading frequently to maiming, disfigurement, and even death. As a result, a large proportion of manatees exhibit propeller scars on their backs. They are now even identified by humans based on their scar patterns. Some are concerned that the current situation is inhumane, with upwards of 50 scars and disfigurements from boat strikes on a single manatee. Often the cuts lead to infections, which can prove fatal. Internal injuries stemming from hull impacts have also been fatal.
- "In the absence of any new management action, that is, if boat mortality rates continue to increase at the rates observed since 1992 ( They have), the situation in the Atlantic and Southwest regions is dire, with no chance of meeting recovery criteria within 100 years.
- "Hurricanes, cold stress, red tide poisoning and a variety of other maladies threaten manatees, but by far their greatest danger is from watercraft strikes, which account for about a quarter of Florida manatee deaths," said study curator John Jett.
- "The severity of mutilations for some of these individuals can be astounding - including long term survivors with completely severed tails, major tail mutilations, and multiple disfiguring dorsal lacerations. These injuries not only cause gruesome wounds, but may also impact population processes by reducing calf production (and survival) in wounded females - observations also speak to the likely pain and suffering endured"In an example, they cited one case study of a small calf "with a severe dorsal mutilation trailing a decomposing piece of dermis and muscle as it continued to accompany and nurse from its mother...by age 2 its dorsum was grossly deformed and included a large protruding rib fragment visible."