Manatee Bargain Notecard

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Manatees (Trichechus manatus)

Although it is hard to imagine upon seeing these large, clumsy-appearing sea mammals, the manatee was once believed to be the legendary mermaid. With its rough, leathery head, split bristly upper lip and torpedo-like body, this greyish-brown, 3000-pound animal bears little resemblance to the captivating siren. The mermaid is only revealed when we look at the manatees’ inner beauty, peacefulness and grace, as well as their loving and playful nature.

The West Indian Manatee belongs to a group known as the Sirenians. The Florida Manatee is a large subspecies of the West Indian Manatee and has been on the endangered species list since 1973. The African and Amazonian Manatees as well as the dugong are also Sirenians; all are endangered. The Steller’s Sea Cow, a former member of this group, has been extinct since 1768, a victim of severe hunting pressure.

Manatees have no territories, but roam the warm, shallow waters of Florida, grazing underwater pastures in lakes, rivers and along coastlines. They spend 6-8 hours a day eating 100-200 pounds of underwater grasses and plants, thus their nickname “sea cows”. Although they look similar to whales and seals, manatees actually evolved from the same grass-eating land mammal as the elephant.

Female manatees mate every 3 to 5 years and have no fixed breeding season. After a 13-month gestation, one, or sometimes two, baby manatees are born. The 70-pound newborns can see and hear and are excellent swimmers. Mother and calf are quite close and remain together for two years.

Sadly, there are scarcely 1000 of these gentle creatures left today. Years of habitat destruction, pollution and hunting have put manatees on the endangered species list. Collisions with motor boats and jet skis kill hundreds of manatees each year. We humans must protect their habitat from development, dumping, filling and dredging if these gentle creatures are to avoid extinction.

artwork  by Jim Lawrence ©1998
text by Beth Bannister

Tags: animals,