The Loveable Manatee
Ancient sailors thought the manatee was a mermaid - an honest mistake, perhaps, for a sailor to make after months at sea.
Close up, though, the manatee's bulky appearance is a far cry from the fabled slinky mermaid of mariner lore. And manatees, unlike the mythical mermaids, are wondrous creatures sadly in danger of extinction.
Manatees, sometimes called "sea cows" because they eat grass, live in both salt and fresh water. The mammal's closest living relative is the elephant, but manatees' roots can be traced back to the Paleocene Epoch, which occurred 60 million years ago.
Most manatees are grey or brown and can grow as long as 13 feet and as heavy as 2,000 pounds. They spend their days feeding, resting and playing.
Scientists estimate that there are only about 1,200 manatees in Florida. Part of the reason is that manatees are slow breeders - gestation can last as long as 13 months and an average cow will produce only one calf every 3 to 5 years.
But a bigger threat to manatees' existence is their vulnerability to danger. Manatees breathe, sleep and graze near the water's surface and move only about 15 miles per hour, often too slowly to escape the dangers of oncoming power boats and boaters. Propellers slice their hides, barges run over them and fishing lines tightly bind and eventually sever their flippers.
For these reasons, manatees are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Speed limits are posted where manatees are known to return each year, but some manatees find new sites each season.
It is against the law to kill, injure, molest, torture or annoy a manatee. Boaters must remember to reduce their speed where posted and where manatees have been sited.
In the summer months, you may be lucky enough to spot a manatee swimming or lolling in local waterways. In the colder months, they tend to congregate in warmer waters near utility plants.
Click Here for an open letter
about the destruction of Manatees!