One of Florida’s most prized possessions is its manatees. These magnificent creatures are peaceful, slow-moving aquatic mammals that paddle with their flippers to get around. Measuring up to 13 feet and weighing up to 1,200 pounds, they are quite hefty creatures as well!
The lazy lifestyle of the manatee may have something to do with their girth, as these sluggish sea creatures spend half of their days sleeping submerged, only to surface every 20 minutes or so to breathe. The other half of their days are filled with grazing along shallow, grassy beds of water.
Florida is flush with extensive beds of seagrass – their primary food source. So always in search of food and intolerant of colder waters, manatees tend to inhabit both salt and brackish waters in rivers, bays, canals, estuaries, coastal areas that are no colder than 68 degrees.
Since they don’t move faster than five miles per hour and they are often camouflaged by sea grasses, boaters need to keep a keen eye out for them so they don’t get hurt. Although no longer considered endangered, these gentle giants of the sea, now referred to as threatened, have yet to increase their population to comfortable numbers.
Boaters need to remain aware of signage that protects manatees as well. Areas that are frequented by and imperative to the survival of manatees, such as their feeding and spawning grounds, are called Manatee Zones. Manatee Zones are protected by the rules established by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. These rules restrict speed and limit or prohibit entry to vessels with the goal of protecting manatees from harmful collisions with vessels and harassment.