Manatees are peaceful aquatic mammals that paddle with flippers and can measure up to 13 feet and weigh up to 1,200 pounds. They are slow moving – typically about three to five miles per hour, and they sleep submerged half the day – only surfacing to breath every 20 minutes or so. The lazy buggers graze in shallow water the other half of the day.
These sea cows inhabit rivers, bays, canals, estuaries and coastal areas and can frequent fresh, salt and brackish waters. Florida is flush with extensive beds of seagrass – their primary food source. Manatees cannot tolerate extended exposure to water that is colder than 68 degrees, so the warm water here also helps create their perfect habitat.
Manatees are categorized as “vulnerable” – meaning they are at high risk of becoming extinct one day. They are protected by rules established by the Fish and Wildlife Commission to restrict speed and the operation of vessels where it is necessary to protect manatees from harmful collisions with vessels and harassment. It is hard to believe that anyone would harm these gentle giants in any way, but believe it or not, it happens…mostly by accident.
In areas that are frequented by and imperative to the survival of manatees – such as warm bodies of water and feeding and spawning grounds, rules can prohibit or limit entry as well as restrict activities there. These areas are called Manatee Zones.
If you are boating, even if you are not in a Manatee Zone, you should always keep any eye out for these magnificent creatures.