Q & A with Joyce Kleen, Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Crystal River office, Florida/USA.
We have two manatees in our region, a female and a male, that are known to be 48 and 50 years of age, respectively.
ARE THE MANATEES OF FLORIDA A SUB-SPECIES?
Yes, the manatees you find here in Florida (Scientific name: Trichechus manatus latirostris) are all a subspecies of the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus).
Manatees and elephants do have a common ancestor.
WHY DO YOU THINK HUMANS FIND MANATEES SO APPEALING?
They are very charismatic animals, each having their own personalities. They really are gentle giants. It is rare to be able to interact with an endangered species that will not harm you!
A female manatee will give birth to a single calf about once every other year.
HOW LONG BEFORE A MANATEE BECOMES AN ADULT? AND HOW BIG DO THEY GET?
Males become mature around 2 to 3 years old and females at around 5 years old. They average 10 feet in length and weigh an average of 2,200 lbs. The adults are very big animals!
Yes, they can move freely between fresh and salt water, but they must drink fresh water to survive.
Manatees eat approximately 10% of their body weight daily in vegetation. By consuming plants both on the surface and below, they help keep waterways open and not completely overtaken by this vegetation.
HOW OFTEN DO THEY NEED TO SURFACE TO BREATHE?
About once every 20 minutes and more often when they are active. They even surface to breathe while they are sleeping!
Manatees only have a thin layer of blubber so they must spend the winter in warm water or they can die from hypothermia. The natural waterways of north-central Florida are warmed by underground hot springs, and these keep the temperature at 72 degrees (F) year-round. When the Gulf water temperature drops below 68 degrees (F), the manatees move inland. You will find a large number of them in the Crystal River and Kings Bay.
Manatees are a threatened species and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. They are also protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA 1972). To read more about the MMPA, click HERE.
HOW LONG ARE VISITORS ALLOWED TO SWIM AND SNORKEL WITH MANATEES?
Tours are run by local dive shops based in Crystal Springs and run 3 - 4 hours (half days). These dive shops are required to have a Special Use Permit that is issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to follow all regulations.
IS IT AGAINST THE LAW TO TOUCH A WILD MANATEE?
It is legal to touch a manatee with one open hand after a manatee has approached a person first. The local dive shops will give you a short educational presentation (video) about manatees and what to do and not do before you board their boats. The emphasis is on passive observation at a distance. At no time should you interfere with their normal behavior, and that includes chasing them or cornering them, grabbing at or poking them, feeding them, or attempting to separate a mother from her calf.
Manatees continue to be at greatest risk of injury and death from from boat strikes. They also suffer from monofilament (fishing lines) or crab trap lines left in the water when these get wrapped around the animal's limbs or body. Manatees can also die from ingesting monofilament lines they mistake for food. Their natural habitat shrinks due to overdevelopment and the improper building of boating docks that block sun rays which cause sea grass to die off (an important food source for manatees). There are also natural mortality factors, such as unusually cold winters or red tide events (algae blooms), these can kill hundreds of manatees in a given year.
WHAT CAN VISITORS DO TO HELP “SAVE THE MANATEES?”
Visitors should abide by all federal and state regulations and be aware of speed regulations when operating boats around our marinas, canals, rivers, and bays. They can wear polarized glasses while boating to reduce sun glare and improve vision. They can properly dispose of their trash, especially fishing line. And they can educate others on how to protect manatees!
You can support the Save the Manatee non-profit conservation group, shop their online gift store, and watch their webcams!
Click the web address below:
Also the Friends of the Crystal River NWR has a gift shop adjacent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office, and proceeds from sales and fundraising go to purchase useful items for the refuge. Visit their site:
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