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Manatees in Florida - Orlando / Florida Guide

Florida Guide > Other Activities

Manatees are sometimes known as ‘sea cows; and they are one of the most delightful creatures to be found in Florida. They are gentle sea creatures, which are mainly herbivorous, and which graze in the shallow waters off the coast of Florida, or in the rivers, eating many different plant species including mangrove leaves, and even types of algae. If you take a close look at their faces you will notice that they have a divided upper lip, which helps them to eat plants. Amazingly, an adult manatee can eat nearly 9% of its body weight each day, which could amount to 50kg. They only have 6 teeth which continuously fall out and are replaced.

Manatees can grow to a length of between 9 and 10 ft in length, and can weigh up to 1200lbs, with the females being the heaviest. They don’t swim very fast, usually around 5-8 km per hour, although they can swim at a speed of up to 30 km an hour for short periods. The manatee uses its paddle-shaped tail to propel itself along, as it glides through the water.

A baby manatee weighs a staggering 30kg, and an adult can live for anything up to 60 years. They only breed every other year, as gestation lasts around 12 months. They give birth to just one calf, which feeds from its mother for up to 18 months. In fact, manatees are quite intelligent, and can demonstrate the sort of task-learning and discrimination usually associated with dolphins. They also show signs of having a long term memory as well as being capable of understanding discrimination tasks. Unlike dolphins, the manatee is generally a solitary creature.

Florida is the ideal location for the manatee as they have a low metabolic rate, which means that they cannot endure cold temperatures. Indeed, they cannot survive at temperatures below 15 degrees C, so they migrate up warm-spring fed rivers during the winter months. If you want to see manatees in the winter then Crystal River and Blue Springs are the places to go. Here, the water is maintained at a constant 22 degrees C all year round, so the manatees congregate around these warm springs.

Sadly, manatees are quite vulnerable, although they have few natural enemies apart from sharks, whales, crocodiles and alligators. It is man-made dangers that are the main problem, and manatees are particularly susceptible to injury from boats and their propellors. Many manatees carry the scars of altercations with motor boats, and wounds are often fatal. In fact, it is illegal under Florida law to cause manatees injury or harm. Nevertheless, whilst the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission do not recognise them as being endangered, they have to be protected, and so they have been declared by them to be ‘threatened, ’ although under federal law they are still endangered.

If you are lucky enough to visit Orlando in the winter months, from mid-November, then do take the opportunity to go and visit one of their winter habitats. They are delightful and non-aggressive creatures which are quite curious. A visit to Blue Springs will be well worthwhile, as manatees congregate in waters warmed by the springs. You can even swim with them here.

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