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5 Fun Facts About Manatees

Did you know that manatees are distant relatives of elephants? Did you know that they have tiny brains but massive lungs? Do you know who first mistook a manatee for a mermaid?

There are a million amazing and fascinating facts about manatees, and we're eager to teach you a few of our favorites! Manatees are marvelous and majestic creatures that have captured the hearts of animal lovers all over the globe. Unfortunately, they're also endangered, which makes teaching the world about them a matter of urgency!

We've put together this list of five of our favorite manatee facts. Spread them far and wide so we can get the word out about the plight of these ocean wonders. Keep reading so you can join in the fight to save the marvelous manatee! 

Fact #1: What ARE Manatees?

To start us off, you'll want to understand the basics about our favorite nautical creature. Manatees are marine mammals, though you might also hear them referred to as sea cows. This is because they are chunky and slow-moving, not unlike their bovine counterparts on the land.

Even so, manatees have more in common genetically with elephants than they do with cows! Both manatees and elephants evolved from a common ancestor known as the tethytheria. While elephants remained on land, the early ancestors of the manatee took to the sea, where they continue to splash around today!

This may be why manatees are the largest herbivores in the ocean, where they can consume 15% of their body weight in vegetation every single day! 

Fact #2: Manatees Were the First Mermaids

Stories about mermaids have existed as long as humans have had the written word, if not longer! They appear in myths and legends across cultures, spanning the entire globe. While many of the ocean's creatures might be mistaken for finned maidens at first glance, manatees may have been there first.

One of our favorite interesting facts about manatees involves a case of mistaken identity. 

We can agree to disagree about who "discovered" America, but Christopher Columbus claims to have spotted three mermaids around North America on January 9th, 1493. In his log, he mourns the fact that the mermaids were a little more masculine than expected. This is probably because they were not mermaids at all, but playful manatees!

Manatees are members of the order Sirena, which comes from the Greek word seirēn, meaning siren. Sirens are, of course, the singing Greek mermaids of myth and legend, known for luring sailors to their deaths. Sweet, good-natured manatees are unlikely to ever cause a sailor harm, however!

Fact #3: Don't Bug a Manatee!

Manatees are an endangered species, and thus animal lovers take conservation efforts very seriously. There are several laws in place that make it illegal to mess with a manatee in any way!

The Marine Mammal Protection Act seeks to prevent human activities from impacting the survival of many different marine species, including our beloved manatees. For fifty years, the MMPA has been keeping creatures like the manatee safe from tourists, speed boats, and all sorts of other dangers!

In Florida, manatees are also protected by the Manatee Sanctuary Act. This law makes it illegal to "annoy, molest, harass, or disturb any manatee." 

This doesn't seem like it should be such a big problem, right? Manatees are massive, weighing between 800 and 1200 pounds each as full-grown adults. Why would any intelligent human want to mess with the heavyweight champions of the gulf? 

Apparently, some swimmers and tourists can't help themselves! It's not uncommon to find police reports about people attempting to "ride" manatees.

Every so often, you'll even see a police report about a tourist who has attempted to hug a manatee - and while that's still illegal, we think it's understandable!

Fact #4: Little Brains, Big Hearts

One of the most amazing facts about manatees is also one of the silliest! They have tiny brains, at least compared to their body mass! In fact, it's the smallest brain-to-mass ratio of any marine mammal in the world!

Does that mean manatees are unintelligent? 

A researcher at the University of Florida decided to find out. Roger L. Reep found that manatees performed just as well on experimental tasks as dolphins did - and dolphins are one of the most intelligent species on earth!

That didn't mean they were easy to work with, however! Scientists did not anticipate how slow-moving the manatees would be. Attempts to motivate the mammals went poorly, as they weren't interested in moving faster just for a taste of fish! 

Fact #5: A Lungful of Love

If you see a manatee duck under the water and they don't come up for a while, don't panic! While their brains may be small, their lung capacity is massive! 

On average, you can expect a manatee to find its way to the surface to breathe every five minutes or so. When necessary, they are capable of holding their breath for as long as twenty minutes!

Their lungs work differently than a human's. When a human takes a breath and dives into the water, they can replace a maximum of 10% of their lung capacity. In contrast, a manatee can replace up to 90% of the oxygen in its lungs with a single breath! 

Flaunt These Five Fun Facts About Manatees

Whether you are a life-long sea cow lover or just now getting to know these majestic maritime mermaids, these facts about manatees make great conversation! The more the public knows and understands about manatees, the more effort they will put into conservation. Share these manatee facts far and wide to help get the word out about the plight of these gorgeous creatures!

If you're looking for another way to help, visit the Everything Manatee online store and browse our selection of nifty nautical gifts and apparel! The proceeds from every purchase go to support local manatee and marine life charities. You can do your part to keep incredible creatures like the manatee safe while rocking awesome shirts, hats, flip flops, and more. 

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