The manatee has a large, seal-like body that tapers to a spatulate tail.
It has two forelimbs with three or four nails on each limb. The skin is
wrinkled with stiff whiskers on its upper lip.
The manatee is gray or gray-brown. The mammal can grow to 13 feet and
weigh more than 3,000 pounds. The manatees are gentle and slow moving. Most
of their time is spent eating aquatic plants, resting or just traveling.
They are completely harmless and have no system of defense.
The often shy and reclusive manatee has a rather limited depth perception,
although it can differentiate colors quite well. In spite of the absence of
external ear lobes, the animal can hear very well and communicate in sounds
that are within the human auditory range. The manatee must surface every
few minutes to breathe.
The habitat includes shallow, slow moving rivers and coastal areas rich
in seagrass beds. The manatee eats only aquatic plants and can eat daily
10 to 15 percent of its own body weight.
The West Indian manatee are concentrated in Florida during the winter,
but can be found as far north as Virginia and the Carolinas and as far
west as Louisiana. The same species can also be found in the coastal and
inland waters of Central and South America.
Female manatees are not reproductively mature until the age of 5 to 9 years
and the male manatee is not thought to be mature until the age of 6 to 9.
A female manatee will bear a calf normally every 2 to 5 years with a gestation period
of 13 months.
The greatest danger to the manatee's survival is caused by humans. Boat
propellers cause a large number of injuries to these animals. Poaching,
pollution and ingestion of fish hooks and lines are also taking their toll.
Natural occurring dangers for the manatee are cold and the Red Tide.
The manatee are on the endangered species list and protected by the
Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, The U.S. Marine Mammal Act of 1972
and by the U. S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. If you see dead or injured
animals or manatee harassment, call the Florida Marine Patrol on the Manatee
Hotline toll free at 1-800-DIAL-FMP.