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Thread: Manatees

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    Admin denise's Avatar
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    Apr 2008
    Orlando, Florida


    The Florida Manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostrus, is the most endearing of all Florida's wildlife, and are actually the Florida State Marine Mammal. They resemble and are the aquatic equivalents of the elephant. Manatees can grow to 12 feet and weight up to 1000lbs. Baby manatees are 4 feet and 80 lbs when born! Despite their immense size, they are extremely gentle and curious creatures, that, like many others, have suffered terribly at the hands of man.

    Manatee at Ginnie Springs
    Photo courtesy of Bill Huth

    Manatees live shallow fresh, brackish and marine water that is more than 68 degrees, inhabiting bays, estuaries and rivers. They like water that is between 3-8 feet, and generally never venture below 20 feet. Manatees spend 6-8 hours a day eating, and the can consume up to 10% of their body weight in a single day!! Manatees eat over 50 different types of aquatic plants. The rest of their day is spent traveling or resting. They sleep in shallow water, and with the aid of their large lungs (over 2 feet long!), they can hold their breath for more than 15 minutes!! The communicate with each other by squealing under the water. They can travel long distances in search of food, One manatee was recorded swimming to New York and another swam up the Mississippi River!

    Close up of a manatee in Crystal River

    More recently, a potentially fatal syndrome has been discovered in manatees called "cold stress", where manatees experience symptoms similar to frostbite and hypothermia, when the water temperature drops below 68° F. Over the winter months in Florida, when the oceans and rivers drop in temperature (often down into the 50's), the manatees move into warmer water.

    Historically, the majority of manatees congregated in South Florida, with a few groups migrating to the warm freshwater springs in North Florida. Florida's freshwater springs, as these are a constant 72° F, making them an ideal habitat for manatees.

    Nowadays, many go to industrial power plant outfalls that discharge warm water, herds of up to 500 are spotted regularly hovering around in the discharge sites. Some manatees still make their way to shallow southern coastal waters, but most migrate to the warmer water freshwater springs. They stay close to this warm water as long as possible, only taking breaks to feed in their regular feeding areas. If these feeding areas get very cold, the manatees will not return for many days on end!

    Manatee at Blue Springs, October 2011

    Here in Orlando, one of our most popular dive sites, Blue Springs, is one of these preferred manatee habitats, with more than 300 manatees using the springs to get them through the cold winter months. During this time, swimmers and scuba divers are not allowed in the water, to ensure the manatees have a peaceful, quiet area to rest and stay warm. Over the last few years the number of manatees using Blue Spring in the winter months has greatly increased. When manatee counts first began at Blue Spring in the 1980-1981 winter season, there were only 35 manatees. However, the last winter season of 2010 - 2011 brought more than 300 manatees to Blue Spring.

    A new great addition to the park was the recent installation of webcams, so people can check out the manatees LIVE in Blue Springs......

    Click here to see what the manatees are doing right now in Blue Springs

    Blue Springs is also a site renowned for the successful release of captive manatees.

    The Florida Manatee, Trichechus manatus latirostrus

    The exact population of the Florida manatee is unknown. They are difficult to count because they are often in low visibility waters, or simply asleep below the surface. It is estimated that there are about 3,300 manatees in Florida at the moment.

    Manatees can live to be 60 years old. Occasionally adults are disturbed by crocodiles, and their calves are sometimes taken by alligators, crocodiles, and sharks. Natural causes of death include disease, red tide, and susceptibility to cold stress during winter months. However, the most significant cause of death (30%) is due to humans. Countless manatees have been killed through degradation of sea grass beds, mangroves and salt marshes; collisions and injuries from boat and propeller strikes; trapping and subsequent drowning within flood control structures; pollution and harassment. Due to this the beautiful Florida manatee is on the brink of extinction.

    Steps to reverse the all time low manatee populations, have been addressed as far back as 1893, when a Florida law was established to protect manatees. Since 1907, any person who kills or harasses a manatee can be fined $5000. Manatees have also been included in the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973. In 1978, manatee protection was increased significantly when the “Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act” was passed by the state, which designates the entire state of Florida as a “refuge and sanctuary for the manatees”.

    Manatees sleeping in the hot afternoon sun

    Today, hunting is illegal and poaching is rare, but habitat encroachment and harassment continues, and the manatee death toll still continues to rise. Until these issues are properly resolved, the manatee death toll will continue to rise, and we are in danger of loosing one of the most gentle, charismatic animals that brings more than $10 million into Florida economy per year.

    Manatee sighting at Blue Springs Sept 2nd 2009
    Photo by Kiersten Main

    Tj and I visited Seaworld where we saw some rehabilitating manatees up close and personal. This was both an exciting, and humbling experience. These are manatees that have been injured in the wild and are now recuperating in a safe environment before they are released back into their native habitat.

    In February 2008, Seaworld released two orphaned manatees back to the wild after a long, successful rehabilitation. Annie was found and rescued back in 2005, and Rocket back in 2006. Since then, both made complete recoveries, piled on the weight (a good thing for manatees!), and showed signs they would be able to fend for themselves in the wild. After a long and well planned operation, both were released into the run at Blue Springs, and immediately took to their new home, mixing in with the large herd that was there at the time. As soon as water temperatures heated up, the left for the St Johns river, and are often spotted playing, eating and following tourist boats out there.

    Manatee Annie (released from Seaworld in February 2008) curious of a diver. Blue Springs, Central Florida.

    Manatee Hurricane, a 28 year old resident of the St Johns River herd, photographed at Blue Spring April 2008

    Hurricane up for a breath of air, Blue Springs

    Hurricane, back to the bottom for another nap.....

    Read more at on manatees and the efforts been made to save them at:

    Here are a couple pictures of a crippled, yet recovered manatee at Sea World:

    His 'good' side:

    His 'bad' side (note, he is missing most of his right flippers; side and back):
    Last edited by denise; 01-25-2014 at 11:56 AM.
    Denise Byrne
    Marine Biologist/OW, Tech and Cave Instructor
    Orlando, Florida

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