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What is a Manatee?

Two gentle Manatees swimming
Two gentle Manatees swimming.

What is a Manatee? Manatees are large, gentle marine mammals who live in warm tropical waters. Sometimes called Sea Cows, these docile creatures are slow, languid swimmers. Primarily vegetarians, they eat mostly shoreline grasses, sea grass, turtle grass, sea grape leaves and mangrove leaves. They are the state Marine Mammal of Florida.

Mangroves at the water’s edge
Mangroves at the water’s edge.

These mammals who are related to the elephant have been endangered for years. They swim very slowly and are gentle and thus became easy targets for hunters who collected their hides to sell. In recent years the threat has come more from the danger of the mammals being hit by boat propellers in the shallow waters and canals where they like to swim. In order to warn boaters to watch out for the mammals caution signs can be seen posted along the canals and waterways along Florida.

Manatee Area
These Manatee caution signs can be seen posted along Florida’s canals and waterways to alert boaters to the presence of Manatees in the area.

Occasionally the Florida winters can get very cold causing the water temperature to drop dramatically. When this occurs very large populations of Manatees can be found converging in certain rivers and springs which are known for their warm water. One such gathering spot is Apollo Beach near the Big Bend Power Plant which discharges warm water into the canals. Just recently over 300 Manatees gathered this week in the warm Crystal River to huddle together and stay warm as seen in this Video from Fox 13 News.

Manatees congregating at Sister Springs in the Crystal River
Manatees congregating at Sister Springs in the Crystal River.

If you are visiting Anna Maria Island and would like to see Manatees a nice place to go is The Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton. Snooty is the most famous Manatee in residence, this 67 year old Manatee is the official Mascot of Manatee County and well worth a visit to the museum.

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