About the Manatees
Learn more about Florida’s celebrated creature.
There’s a lot to learn about the majestic manatee, so take a look at some of the resources we’ve gathered to help you get even more familiar with one of Florida’s most protected and revered species.
Types of Manatees
In the Kings Bay and Crystal River areas, the Florida manatee is the main species that roams these water. Although present year-round, this population is at its highest between November and March. The Florida manatee is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, and can be found not only in Crystal River, but all along the southeasten seaboard from South Carolina to as far south as Cuba.
There’s a lot to learn about this loveable sea creature, so here are a few quick and facts about manatees:
- Depending on the species, the average manatee can weigh anywhere between 800 to 1,200 pounds. The largest manatee ever recorded weighed nearly 3,650 pounds, and measured about 15 feet long.
- Manatees prefer a meat-free diet, and eat about 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in vegetation every day. For example, a 2,000-pound manatee would more than likely eat about 200 to 250 pounds of food a day.
- Aside from the native Florida manatee, other species include the West African manatee, Amazonian manatee, and the dugong.
- Manatees do not have gills, which means they need to surface periodically for air. When active, manatees will surface every 30 seconds or so, but while resting, a manatee can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes.
- Being gentle, social creatures, manatees can travel in groups of 2-3, or as many as 100 if it’s migration or mating seasons.
- Because most manatee species have no natural predators, their lifespan averages around 60 years. The oldest known living manatee was “Snooty” , who was born on July 21, 1948, and lived to be 69 years old.
Conservation and Protection
Ever since the The Florida Manatee Recovery Plan was developed in in 1989, several local, state and federal government agencies have worked tirelessly to help increase and strengthen Florida’s manatee populations.
Recently, manatees were reclassified from “endangered” to “threatened” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but humans still pose a major threat to the manatee’s livelihood. Here are some ways in which you can help increase conservation efforts:
- Supporting research addressing biology, mortality, population and distribution, behavior, and habitat of manatees.
- Abiding the regulatory speed signs and levying of fines for excess speeds in designated areas.
- Manatee education and public awareness programs.
- Public support and acquisition of critical habitats and the creation of sanctuaries
What Can Boaters Do?
- Wear polarized glasses while operating a boat. Polarized lenses make it much easier to see the “swirling” that occurs when a manatee surfaces for air.
- When boating stay in the center of the marked channel. Manatees have shown signs that they are avoiding heavy traffic areas. Channel depth reduces the likelihood of pinning or crushing manatees.
- Avoid areas of seagrasses and aquatic vegetation where manatees may be feeding. Grass beds are prime manatee habitat. This includes areas where hydrilla and water hyacinths are present.
- Slow down. Your boat has speeds other than idle and “wide open”. Reducing your speed gives you greater maneuverability to avoid a manatee when you see one (you’ll also save gas).
- Observe all manatee speed zones and caution areas.
What can Divers Do?
As divers, you are directly entering the manatee’s habitat. By following these simple steps you can minimize your impact:
- Use snorkel gear when diving with manatees. The sound of bubbles from SCUBA gear can frighten the manatees.
- Manatees are wild animals and should not be fed. Close exposure to or dependence on humans can be harmful to them.
- While swimming or diving, do not approach or chase a manatee. Give a manatee its “personal space”.
- A cow and her calf belong together. Please do not separate them — actually, please do not separate or single out any individual manatee from a herd.
- Never poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object.
- Take only as many pictures as the manatees will pose for. Never try to force a manatee into an extended photo session.