What is a manatee …
The Florida manatee, (Trichechus manatus latirostris), is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. They are large marine mammals averaging between 800 to 1,200 pounds, and grow over 12 feet in length. Manatees are completely harmless and nonaggressive. They are grayish-brown in color and are sparsely covered with large hairs, about one per square inch. The two front flippers are used for steering while swimming and the round flattened paddle-shaped tail for propulsion. Manatees usually travel through the water at about two miles an hour. However, they are capable of short bursts of speed of up to 15 miles an hour.
What manatees eat …
Manatees, or sea cows, graze on sea grasses in salt water, and water hyacinths, hydrilla and other aquatic plants in fresh water. Manatees can survive in fresh, brackish, or salt water and they prefer water depths from three to seven feet.
Manatee offspring …
Baby manatees are called calves. They average from three to five feet in length and weigh between 60 and 70 pounds. The gestation period for a female manatee is about a year. On the average one calf is born every two to five years. The calves nurse under water on a nipple located behind the cow’s flipper. A few weeks after birth they begin to eat plants.
Marine Mammals …
Manatees are marine mammals and must come to the surface for air. They usually surface every three to five minutes. However, when they are using a great deal of energy they may surface as often as every 30 seconds. Because they are slow moving and have to surface so often, they often collide with watercraft. Almost every adult manatee has scares made by a boat propeller.
The dangers to manatees …
Unfortunately cold water, periodic red tide blooms, and boats have been associated with manatee deaths. Flood gates and canal locks have also accidentally killed manatees by either crushing or drowning them. Another cause of death comes from discarded fishing line. The line can become wrapped around a flipper cau
The mermaid connection …
Sailors throughout history have reported seeing mermaids, a creature with a woman’s head, torso with a tail of fish. Actually what they were probably seeing were manatees or their relatives. After long months at sea, and with a little imagination, manatees can resemble the human form.
The best place to see manatees? Manatee Park
In this area, the best place to see non-captive manatees is at Manatee Park in Lee County. From November to March they can usually be seen in the canal. They enjoy the warm water discharge from the FPL power plant. Visitors can call the park ahead to find out if the manatees are in. Children as well as adults marvel at their great size, and curious and friendly nature.
In addition to the manatee viewing areas the park has a fishing pier, picnic areas, canoe/kayak launch into the Orange River, a gift shop and a butterfly garden. Chickee, amphitheater, and picnic shelter rentals are available on the weekends May through October. The park is open 8 A.M. to sunset and has seasonal programs November through March. There is a parking fee of $1.00 per hour or $5.00 for the entire day. It is located at 5761 Palm Beach Blvd., Ft Myers, across from the FPL power plant.
For More Information:
Manatee Park, Lee County: www.leeparks.org/facility-info/facility-etails.cfm?Project_Num=0088
Manatee Park, Lee County Hotline : 239-694-3537
Florida Manatees: www.defenders.org/wildlife_and_habitat/wildlife/manatee.php
FPL Manatee Booklet: www.fpl.com/environment/endangered/pdf/manatee.pdf
Save the Manatee Club: www.savethemanatee.org
CAROL HABERKERN is a retired school librarian and media specialist. She has several published articles on nature and the environment and a series of nature and geography e-books that are used as supplementary materials in public and private schools. Carol has resided in Naples since 1979.