Did you know the manatee has existed for over 50 million years? Not only that, but their closest living relative is the elephant.
These gentle sea cows are endangered and face a threat of extinction due to their trusting nature of humans and their low reproductive numbers.
To understand how to help conserve the manatee population, it is important to learn about manatee habitats. In this blog post, we'll discuss eight things you probably don't know about manatees.
If you're curious to learn more manatee facts such as "Where do manatees live?", keep reading to discover more about manatee natural surroundings.
Where Do Manatees Live?
The location of the manatee depends on their species. There are three distinct species of manatee:
- The West Indian Manatee
- The Amazonian Manatee
- The West African Manatee
The West Indian Manatee inhabits North American coastal waters on the West Coast from Florida to Brazil. The Amazonian Manatee lives in the waters of the Amazon River. The West African Manatee populates the West Coast, primarily along the rivers of Africa.
The West Indian Manatee also has two subsets of manatee species. The Florida Manatee and The Caribbean Manatee.
1. Manatees Are Primarily Herbivores
Manatees only eat marine plants and organic sea material such as algae, mangrove leaves, weeds, and seagrasses. Manatees spend half a day eating and can consume 10% of their body weight in organic plant material each day. An adult manatee can reach a weight of 1,200 pounds or more.
Manatees help to control and balance seagrass and other marine plants that may block waterways if they become too overgrown. They are only known for eating fish and other invertebrates when their usual vegetation is limited.
2. Manatees Can Live in Salt Water and Fresh Water
The West Indian Manatee and The West African Manatee can live in freshwater, saltwater, and mixed water environments. They can freely move from one element to another with ease to find the vegetation they need.
They have an internal system to help regulate the salt in their bodies through their kidneys. The Amazonian Manatee is the only species of manatee to live exclusively in freshwater basins.
3. Manatees Prefer Warm Water Environments
Except for The Amazonian Manatee, the West Indian and West African manatees cannot survive in water temperatures below 68º Fahrenheit.
Manatees have very low metabolic rates and minimal fat content for insulation. Despite their size, manatees cannot regulate their body temperature in cold water.
Manatees have even been known to gather at the outputs of power plants because of the warm water there. Manatees will also migrate during colder months to areas with warmer temperatures.
4. Manatees Inhabit Shallow Water Bodies
A manatee's ideal location is in the shallow waters of the coast. But they can also be found in canals, river basins, and bays.
The West Indian Manatee resides in Florida's freshwater lakes, springs, rivers, and estuaries. An estuary is a semi-enclosed lagoon or marsh where salt water and fresh water mix as a result of a river intersecting with an ocean body.
5. Manatees Can Hold Their Breaths Underwater
Manatees are mammals, meaning they need to breathe air to survive. But manatees only need to come up for air in 3-5 minute increments.
Manatees can replace 90% of the oxygen in their lungs with each breath versus humans who only replace 10% of the oxygen in their lungs. This makes it possible for manatees to hold their breath for up to 20 minutes should the need arise.
6. Manatees Don't Have Natural Predators
Due to their large size and the fact that they never leave the water, manatees don't have natural predators that threaten their species. Because they stay in shallow waters only about 3-10 feet deep and don't share the same water with sharks, killer whales, and crocodiles, a predatory attack is very rare. Manatees do not venture into deep waters unless it is an extreme circumstance.
Their biggest threat to a manatee is mankind. Manatees are slow-moving and docile creatures who are very curious. They will often venture towards tourists and rub up against the boat to scratch their backs.
Tourist boats with propellers are plentiful on the Florida coastline and they often run over manatees who have come up to the surface to breathe. Many manatees die from these injuries. This accounts for nearly 50 percent of West Indian manatee deaths.
Tourist interference is a leading threat to manatee habitats. Trying to pet, hug, ride, or feed manatees can upset their delicate ecosystem, disrupt breeding cycles, and make them ill. Garbage thrown into the water may be ingested by manatees and cause harm to them.
In the Amazon, manatees are spear hunted for their meat. A fourth species of manatee, the Steller's sea cow was hunted to extinction just 27 years after being discovered in 1741.
7. Manatee Habitats Are Widely Under Threat
In addition to human interference, manatee habitats are under threat of climate change, red tide, and algal blooms. They also suffer habitat loss and decline due to the construction and development of the surrounding lands.
Fertilizer, manure, and sewage from nearby developments enter the water where the manatees live and cause toxic algae. If the manatees eat this, they get sick and die.
Without their habitats, manatees do not feel secure to mate and breed which causes a drop in manatee populations. Florida manatees are especially vulnerable.
8. Florida Manatee Habitats Are Under State and Federal Protections
Under the Marine Mammal Protection of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978, it is illegal to feed, pet, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, pursue, lure, block, fish for, harm or harass manatees in any way.
It is also illegal to disturb a manatee's breeding, separate a manatee from its calf, and to hit, kick, grab or jump on, hold onto, or attempt to ride a manatee.
The state of Florida has worked to implement speed limit zones located where manatees live, breed, or migrate. This is to prevent boats from running over manatees at high speeds. There is a free mobile app for the iPhone available in Florida called Manatee Alert.
For the Good of Hu-Manatee
By learning about manatees and answering the question, "Where do manatees live?" we can better understand how to help them thrive for years to come.
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