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Manatees of Florida
The first European to report seeing a manatee was Christopher Columbus and to sailors who had been at sea for a long time, manatees were reminiscent of Mermaids.
Sometimes called the sea cow and with a face only a mother could love these gentle giants are found primarily along the coast of Florida.
They are closely related to the elephant, the manatee is Florida’s state marine mammal and they are herbivorous, therefore they must come to the surface to breathe air around every three to five minutes. They feast Daily on vegetation up to as much as 15% of their body weight, which includes very little fat. They average 1,500 to 1,800 pounds and measure ten to twelve feet in length and spend six to eight hours a day eating and the rest of the time is spent resting or travelling.
They spend most of their time moving between fresh water, brackish and saltwater environments, but rarely do they venture into waters that are below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although they are concentrated in Florida in the winter months they migrate and can often be found as far west as Louisiana and as far north as Virginia.
The Manatee does not reach breeding maturity until between the ages of three and ten years of age. The gestation period is approximately 13 months and usually only one calf is born; however twins do occur. The calf may stay with the mother for up to two years and during this time learns survival. They communicate with each other by emitting sounds underwater that are audible to humans and the vocalizations which sound like squeak and squeals are extremely important for maintaining contact between mother and calf.
The Florida Manatee an icon of Florida wildlife is now on the brink of extinction. Their low productive rate combined with loss of habitat and high rates of mortality often human related such as (collision with boats) now threaten the animal’s survival. They have no natural enemies and can live up to sixty years of age.
Listed as an endangered species, Florida has passed many laws to protect these wonderful creatures.
Sea world has also been a major force in the conservation of manatees and the park is now authorized to rescue and rehabilitate these endangered mammals. Only with vast promotion of public awareness and help from responsible tourists, residents, fishermen and boaters will the coming generations have the chance to appreciate and enjoy these gentle giants.
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