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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

T MANATEES
he Florida manatee, designated manatee (Trichechus manatus
the state marine mammal in manatus) is found in the
1975, is among the states Caribbean, Central America, and
most popular native animals.
northeastern South America.
Manatees inhabit coastal waters, Floridas Gentle Giants
The Florida manatee (Trichechus
estuaries, tidal creeks and manatus latirostris) occupies the
freshwater systems of Florida northern part of the species
and occasionally other southeastern states. A listed range in the southeastern United States.
species under the federal Endangered Species Act and
state Imperiled Species List, the manatees health and
survival is threatened by human-related impacts such
Habitat and Range
as habitat loss and boat strikes, as well as natural The Florida manatee is found throughout Floridas
events such as cold snaps and red tide. Government rivers, estuaries and bays, in both fresh and salt
agencies and private organizations conduct research water. Manatees are typically quite mobile, migrating
to help inform conservation actions needed to protect seasonally over extensive geographic areas. Tracking
these unique animals. studies have shown variation in seasonal movement
patterns, with some individuals migrating hundreds
of miles at typical rates of 20 miles a day; whereas
Manatees are Native to Florida others remain in one area year-round. Manatees are
Manatees belong to the unique order of mammals remarkable navigators and return annually to the
known as Sirenia. The Caribbean and western same winter sites. Most animals stay within the
Atlantic Ocean has been home to Sirenians for nearshore areas of peninsular Florida, but some
millions of years and is the only region on Earth travel as far as Louisiana and North Carolina. There
continuously inhabited by the Sirenia since the have been notable exceptions, however. A few
Eocene (~5634 million years ago). Furthermore, individuals have traveled as far north as Cape Cod,
experts report that the greatest known diversity Massachusetts; as far west as Corpus Christi, Texas;
of sirenians also occurred in this region over and as far inland as Memphis, Tennessee, via the
the last 50 million years. Today, the West Indian Mississippi River. Florida manatees have even been
manatee is split into two subspecies. The Antillean sighted in Cuba and the Bahamas!

Common name Florida manatee


Scientific name Trichechus manatus latirostris
Estimated population The estimate of abundance for the period 2011 and 2012 with 95%
confidence (CI) was 6,350 (95% 5,3107,390)
Range Found throughout rivers, springs and shallow coastal waters of
Florida and adjacent states
Population status Federally listed under Endangered Species Act, considered depleted
under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Manatees are mammals and therefore are warm
blooded, but their metabolic rate is exceptionally low;
and although they look fat, they do not have much of
an insulating layer. These factors make them sensitive
to cold, so animals must seek warm water during
winter. A system of warm-water refuges, including
natural springs, power-plant outflows and passive
thermal basins provide havens in cold weather. Some
of these sites attract hundreds of animals in the
winter. Establishing a reliable network of warm-water
refuges that include adequate food resources near
winter aggregations is critical in order to sustain a
healthy manatee population.

FWC photo. Activities were conducted under USFWS permit


Description #MA773494.

Appearance
Adult manatees vary from grey to brown, but can hear quite well, and research suggests they have
newborns are usually darker grey. At birth, manatee a good ability to localize sound. Sound provides an
calves weigh 50-70 pounds and are 3-4 feet long. important means for communication: manatees
Adults are typically about 9-10 feet long and weigh produce a variety of squeaks, squeals and chirps.
around 1,100 pounds. Some reach 13 feet long and Though manatees are often quiet, mother-calf pairs
weigh up to 2,600 pounds. Manatees have a wide, communicate frequently in a duet of sounds.
paddle-shaped tail to propel themselves through the Manatee teeth are continually replaced throughout
water. Their two flippers, each with three or four the animals lifetimea necessary adaptation
fingernails, are used to steer and bring food to their because the manatees diet of plants often contains
mouths. abrasive sand. As older molars at the front of the jaw
wear down and fall out, new molars move forward
Senses from the rear to replace them. Therefore, the
manatees teethunlike those of most other
Manatee skin is thick and rough, finely wrinkled and
mammalsdo not give scientists any clues about the
covered in sparse hairs that act as sensors, similar to
animals age. Instead, researchers count annual
whiskers found on the faces of cats, dogs, mice,
growth rings in the ear bones of manatee carcasses
walrus and many other mammals. A concentration of
to help determine their age.
these stiff bristle-like hairs, or vibrissae, also grow on
the manatees prehensile lips and snout, acting as
sensors to help bring vegetation to their mouths. Breathing
Manatee eyes are small and located near the Like all mammals, manatees are air-breathers. They
sides of the head. They have circular eyelids, and an typically surface approximately every five minutes,
inner membrane can be closed over the cornea for but they can hold their breath up to 20 minutes while
protection. Studies indicate that although manatees resting. This ability is due to the length of their lungs,
vision is not sharp, they can see in both dim and which in adults can be three feet or more, and their
bright light (an adaptation to turbid waters) and can low metabolic rate. Their nostrils, located atop the
distinguish colors, shapes and patterns and likely are snout, have valves that close when the manatee is
well-suited at finding patches of aquatic vegetation at underwater. Manatees often rest for several hours at
intermediate to longer ranges. a time, lying just below the waters surface or on the
Manatees do not have external ears; their ear bottom and moving only when they need to surface
openings are located just behind the eyes and are to take a breath. Interestingly, manatee mothers and
very small and difficult to see. Nevertheless, manatees their calves typically breathe in unison.

Reproduction and Life Expectancy tracked manatees. Manatees may typically spend
several hours a day feeding, but during prolonged
Manatees usually reach sexual maturity at
cold weather some may opt to stay in warm water
approximately five years of age, and the female can
and forego food for several days at a time. As
give birth every 2.5-5 years. Gestation lasts 12-14
aquatic herbivores, manatees spend large amounts
months, usually producing one calf, although twins
of time traveling, feeding and resting in a variety of
rarely occur. Calves stay with their mothers 1 to
shallow-water habitats often in close proximity with
2 years. The species low reproductive rate
the activities of people.
constrains the speed of population recovery.
Manatees may live 60 years or more, however this is
not typical. For manatees that reach adulthood,
about half are expected to survive at least into their
Conservation
late 20s, given current levels of mortality. A manatee Manatees are protected by regulations enacted and
named Snooty was born in captivity in 1948 and enforced by federal, state, and local governments.
currently lives at the South Florida Museum in They are protected by the federal Endangered Species
Bradenton. Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The
State of Florida enacted protective measures in 1893
Diet and enhanced those protections with the Florida
Manatee Sanctuary Act in 1978. Initially in 2007,
Manatees are aquatic herbivores, eating over 60 Florida adopted the Manatee Management Plan,
species of freshwater and marine vegetation which which gives an overview of conservation and
leaves us to think that they are not picky eaters! protection programs, initiatives, strategies, and
Seagrass is a dietary staple and manatees are often provides a framework for conserving and managing
seen grazing in seagrass beds. Intentionally feeding Floridas manatees. Managers use various methods
manatees is illegal and can attract them to boats of protecting manatees, including slow-speed zones
and their propellers or cause them to lose their fear in known manatee habitat and travel corridors, and
of people. Manatees do seek freshwater sources have established restricted or prohibited-entry
and are often seen drinking from creeks or industrial sanctuaries. Restoration and enhancement of Florida
and other drainage outflows. Intentionally providing springs is another important conservation effort
water to manatees is discouraged because it too can underway.
draw them to areas of high boat traffic and human
activity.
Threats
Behavior Human-related
A manatee calf will stay close to its mother during Historically, manatees were hunted for meat, hides,
the first years while it is nursing and learning where bones, and fatfirst by Native Americans, then by
to find important feeding, resting and protective early European settlers. Hunting was outlawed in
winter habitat areas. With the exception of the 1893 and no longer threatens the Florida manatee
mother-calf associations and winter aggregations, population, but humans affect them in other ways.
manatees have been described as semi-social, As Floridas human population increases, more
forming generally transient associations. For people are sharing the waterways where manatees
instance, by radio-tagging manatees we know that live; Florida has close to one million registered boats
they may appear in a small group and then months and many boating visitors. The Florida manatee is
later reappear with some of the same individuals. directly impacted by human activities, including
During the warm season (March/April October/ collisions with watercrafts and long-term loss of
November), manatees disperse throughout coastal warm-water habitat. Other threats include crushing
waters, estuaries and major rivers of Florida and in water control structures and interaction with
some migrate to other states. A wide variety of fishing gear such as monofilament fishing line, crab-
behavior has been observed through individually trap lines, and other similar hazards and debris.

Natural Rescue and Rehabilitation


When water temperatures drop below 68F, manatees The State of Florida and federally-authorized partners
that have not moved to warmer water may begin to rescue injured and sick manatees to rehabilitate and
show symptoms of cold stress. Cold stress is a release them into their native waters as soon as
syndrome characterized by emaciation, skin sores possible. Federally-permitted oceanaria serve as
and infections. In the very cold winter of 2010, more critical-care facilities where experts treat wounded or
than 250 manatees were rescued or died from cold ill manatees and provide the best care possible. If you
stress. Many more were suspected to have died from see a distressed or dead manatee please report it by
the cold, but cause of death could not be determined calling FWCs wildlife alert toll-free number 1-888
in all cases due to decomposition. Each winter, even 404-FWCC (3922). Cellular phone customers: *FWC
when the weather is mild, small numbers of manatees or #FWC.
die from the effects of cold. This number would
increase if the power plants on which many manatees Please be prepared to answer the following questions:
rely for warm water are eventually decommissioned
and if Floridas springs are not adequately protected. What is the exact location of the animal? Is there
Because of this, protecting a network of warm-water any land access close by, and if so, is this private
refuges is a key management objective. property?
Florida red tide is a concentrated bloom of Karenia Is the manatee alive or dead?
brevis, a microscopic marine alga that produces How long have you been observing the manatee?
brevetoxin, a potent neurotoxin. Manatees can What is the approximate size of the manatee?
become ill or even die when they eat brevetoxin Can you provide a contact number where you can
contaminated seagrass. Red tide can cause marine be reached for further information?
mammal strandings, bird and aquatic animal deaths
including fish kills. In humans, the toxin can cause The above information is the most important you can
Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning from eating shellfish provide; however, any additional information will be
that feed on K. brevis and allergy-like symptoms from helpful.
inhaling toxins aerosolized in sea spray.
Conclusion
Research As Floridas human population grows, saving room
Through effective research, timely information is for manatees will require a strong continuous
provided to conservation managers in order to support commitment by Floridas residents and visitors to
sound plans and decisions that will protect manatees. protect existing habitats and reduce the number of
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation injuries or deaths caused by watercraft collisions.
Commission (FWC) and its partner organizations are Over the years, Floridians have repeatedly expressed
federally permitted to conduct research on manatees. their support for this gentle giant. A license plate
FWCs comprehensive manatee research and enacted in 1990 that features the manatee is a critical
monitoring activities focus on population assessments funding source needed to support priority manatee
including abundance estimation; survival rate conservation work. The revenues generated by its
estimation from photo-identification and genetics; sale have provided much-needed dollars for manatee
habitat use; health and mortality factors; and research, rescues, conservation, and environmental
evaluating impacts of human activities on manatees education. With continued public support, manatees
and their habitats. will remain a unique and treasured part of Florida.

March 2016

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
100 8th Avenue SE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701 (727) 896-8626 MyFWC.com/Research

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