West Indian Manatees for the most part of their life live in the water of Florida. Some, however, were found as far north as the Carolinas, or as far west as Louisiana. They can survive in both fresh and marine water. The manatees are very sensitive to the cold. They can stay in water lower than 68°F (20°C). They would die of the cold. For the most part manatees like to stay in natural springs where the temperature is at a constant of 72°F (22°C). Another place you can find manatees is near power plants. There, the water is also warm. Some electric companies even turn on more turbines to warm the water. This way, the manatees always have a comfortable place to stay. Manatees are migratory. They usually return to the same place every year. They are solitary animals rarely do they congregate.
These manatees can grow only up to 9 feet (2.7m). They weigh about 1000 pounds (450kg). The skin has a gray-brownish color. West Indians have a round chubby body. They have 2 large front flippers and a round blunt tail. The flippers have fingernails at the tip. The manatees use their flippers to push themselves along the riverbed, or help them steer or feed. They have a round face with a wrinkled snout. Their eyes are small and the nostrils are crescent-shaped. They have whiskers growing around the snout area. Though the ears are not apparent, but they are located about 10 inches (25.4cm) behind each eye. Since manatees are mammals, they need to breathe. If they are very active they have to surface every 30 seconds for air. When resting manatees can remain under water for about 20 minutes. They spend the most part of their day, about 12 hours, resting and feeding. During their rest, the whole body slows down, therefore conserving energy. Breathing is an automatic action. Even when sleeping, one side of the brain is awake so that they will surface for air. Manatees are peaceful animals. They have no natural enemies. Even when they are being attack, they would not fight back.
A female is ready to mate when she is 3 or 4 years of age, but not until 7 or 8 is she capable of caring for her young. When she is ready to mate, she scent-marks the trail she passes by, such as rocks, logs, or other objects on the riverbed. Males passing through the same trail pick up the scent and go to her. During this time, the herd of males called bulls, chase after her. She will select the ones she wants to mate. Males that are impatient, such as younger manatees, would go elsewhere. The older ones, however, would wait to get their turn to mate with the female. Once the males finish mating with the female, they will go their own ways. The female has the responsibility to bring up the calf on her own. The gestation period is about 13 months. She usually gives birth to one calf. The calf is very close to her and she is extremely protective of it. Like all mammals, the young feed on the mother's milk. She plays with the calf such as tag, bodysurfing, and barrel rolling. They communicate with each through squeaks and squeals. The calf stays close to the mother for 2 years. During these 2 years, the mother teaches the calf all it needs to know in order to survive on its own. Once the calf is ready, it will leave the mother.
Manatees are vegetarians. They feed on plants that grow on the sea floor. Some of their favorite salt-water vegetation are Manatee grass, Turtle grass, Widgeon grass, and Shoal grass. When they are in fresh water they like to eat Florida elodea, Southern naid, Eurasian watermilfoil, Tapegrass, Eelgrass, Coontail, Water hyacinth, and Water lettuce.
Manatees' only threat is human. With the growth of the human population, more and more lands are taken away from the manatees. With the increase of population comes pollution, harassment, and vandalism. Water pollution has decreased the areas where manatee can live. Harassment caused the calves and the mother to be separated. Litter is also a cause of their death. Plastic six-packs holders, fishing lines and hooks, and plastic bags are very dangerous to them. By accident they eat them and get choked. Flood controls have killed manatees also. When the gates open, the pressure of the water causes the manatees to drown. However, the number one killer of manatees is watercraft collision. Manatees are slow moving animals. When speeding motorboats come their way, it is too late for them to move out of the way. The propellers cut through their skin. Some are lucky, they only get cut, but many others are killed by the sharp blades. The hull of boats can also crush them.
These gentle creatures need our help. If not, they will be extinct soon. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 condemn any killing, hunting, collecting, harassing, harming, pursuing, shooting, trapping, wounding, or capturing any animals that are considered endangered. Anyone violating one of these conditions can be fined up to $100,000 and/or one year imprisonment. The Florida government also passed the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. It forbids anyone at any time hurting or molesting the manatees. They also set up signs throughout the year warning boaters to look out for manatees when traveling on the water.