Living in Florida, we can’t help but love manatees. These odd-looking but endearing, grey creatures remind the Island Runaways duo (that's Zickie and me) how wondrous nature truly is. They gently move through the ocean, as they munch sea grasses and go about their own mysterious manatee business. The first time I saw a manatee swim underneath my kayak in the Florida Keys, I literally stopped breathing. Manatees are enormous! I could barely believe such a huge animal was passing just two feet away. First I was stunned, then fascinated, and finally, just hooked.
(Photo by Jim Reid, US Fish and Wildlife Services, Flickr)
Another place we’ve watched manatees is at Seaquarium in Miami; this marine park runs a manatee rehabilitation program. Sometimes they rescue orphaned baby manatees who might otherwise die in the wild. They also take in manatees that have been injured by boat motors. In fact, when I was pregnant with our daughter, I got so concerned about the orphaned babies swimming around in their Seaquarium pool that Zickie thought I was going to jump in after them. (I insist I was not, but he actually took my arm and moved me away from the railing. Those pregnancy hormones are powerful things. And baby manatees are irresistibly cute.)
(Photo by Psyberartist, Flickr)
In winter, American manatees move south for warmer waters. That gives Floridians many opportunities to see them up close. The kind of manatee we see off Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Caribbean islands are the West Indian manatees; other types include the Amazonian manatee and the West African manatee.
One of our Island Runaway readers and Island Experts, Frantz in Martinique, told me that these marine mammal once glided through the ocean surrounding his country...but they were all killed off over time. Manatees no longer explore the ocean off this French Antillean island. In other words, manatee populations are vulnerable, and can disappear. In Florida, many of us who love manatees make efforts to ensure the manatee population survives. That includes observing No Wake regulations in marked Manatee Zones when boating. You can also join organizations like Save the Manatee (and follow their Facebook page, which posts a lot of terrific photos).
Here are five quick facts about manatees, in case you need an introduction:
1) Manatees are mammals. They breath air, so they come fairly frequently to the surface. They give birth to live young, and they nurse their young for one to two years.
2) Manatees are sizeable creatures. Males average about 10 feet, while larger females can grow up to 13 feet. Their weight ranges from 800 to 1300 pounds. You can imagine how challenging this makes manatee rescues, when a creature is injured.
3) Manatees consume mostly plant-life, and they can eat 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in vegetation per day.
(Photo by Sophie Robson, Flickr)
4) Due to their vegetable diets, they are very gas-y! You might just spot manatee flatulence bubbles in the water before you spot the manatee itself.
5) Manatees are endangered. Manatees can get diseases like pneumonia, but sadly, they are also killed by boat propellers or when they become trapped by discarded fishing line and injured by fishing hooks. Organizations like Save the Manatee have helped raise the public’s awareness, and manatee numbers in the Sunshine State are slowly increasing. Florida residents can even get a manatee license plate, with profits going to the Manatee Trust Fund. No, that’s not an inheritance scheme for rich manatees. It funds manatee research, management, and conservation efforts by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
(Photo by Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Flickr)
If you’ve never seen one in “real life,” Zickie and I hope that you get to witness a manatee one day. Despite their massiveness, they are graceful, peaceful creatures and such a joy to watch.
For more information about Save the Manatees, click here to go to their website.