Manatees are a totally aquatic mammal spending their entire life underwater feeding, mating and bearing young although they do surface to breathe but they never leave the water. Florida Manatees are often referred to as the "Sea Cow", aptly so achieving a record weight of 3,600 lbs and reaching up to 15 ft. in length, however 1,000 lbs average weight and lengths of 10' ft is more common. Manatees breed year round however most calves are born in the spring & summer months. Manatees have a very slow gestation period only bearing young once every 2-5 years. A gestation period of 13 months usually results in one calf (twins can occur but not frequently) and the baby Manatee can immediately swim underwater and surface by itself. Newborn Manatees also nurse underwater and can vocalize with their Mother. Manatee calf birth weight is a hefty 60-70 pounds and they measure 4-5 feet in length. Strong bonds are formed between the baby Manatee and its Mother and they can stay together for periods as long as 2 years before weaning occurs.
Manatees gave rise to many ancient myths as they glided along gracefully propelled by their tails many seafaring men reported sightings of mermaids as far back as the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Upon closer look, Manatees do not look quite as beautiful as Ariel from Disney's classic movie “The Little Mermaid” frolicking with her best friend Flounder! Manatees frequent shallow waters with depths anywhere from 5-10' migrating through seagrass beds and wherever aquatic vegetation is plentiful. These endangered aquatic mammals have much of their historic range and are found in slow moving shallow waterways in the U.S. from Virginia to Florida in summer months, into the Bahamas, many tropical islands, the east coast of Mexico, Belize and into South America from Colombia to Venezuela.
Florida Manatees are an Endangered Species, fully protected on a Federal level by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and also by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978 all of which are helping the Manatee population slowly recover. Due to recovered populations, recent legislation is proposed in the State of Florida to remove both the Manatee and Bald Eagle from the State’s Endangered Species list. However, both species will still be offered full protection by Federal jurisdiction. Manatees have a natural live span of 60 years with no natural enemies except man with prime threat to the species being loss of habitat. Most Manatee mortalities occur from watercraft collisions. Sadly, scientists and researchers can often identify and track surviving Manatees by the scar markings left as result of boating accidents. Each year, in accordance decree by Florida Legislature, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) coordinates at least one statewide synoptic survey (aerial count) to obtain Manatee populations. The last census in February 2006 showed an estimated 3,116 Manatees in prime Florida Manatee grounds of Brevard, Broward, Citrus, Collier, Dade, Duval, Indian River, Lee, Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach, Sarasota and Volusia counties. It is hoped that people will respect the slow-speed and no-wake zones established to protect the slow moving Manatee and that we can learn to coexist harmoniously in the waters of the subtropical habitat we share with these gentle giants.
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