|Size:||Length: 8 to 14 feet (2.4 to 4.3 m)|
|Weight:||450 to 3,500 pounds (200 to 1588 kg)|
|Diet:||Aquatic vegetation, especially sea grass|
|Distribution:||The waters of southwestern U.S. to West Indies and along the coast of northern South America|
|Young:||1 calf every other year. On rare occasions, twins may occur|
|Lifespan:||70 years or more|
· Their closest evolutionary ties are with elephants.
· Steller’s Sea Cow, a relative of the manatee, became extinct in the 1700s.
· Manatees have blue or brown eyes and see colour.
Manatees have a round, streamlined, body with a tail that looks like and works like a paddle. Their skin is thick and rough, and is commonly coloured gray. Their flipper-like forelimbs help them to swim and steer. Manatees have a low metabolic rate and cannot survive in water below 65F (18C). Water temperatures of 68F (20C) and above are preferred, as they are subject to hypothermia.
The largest population of West Indian manatees is found in Florida. They can be found in slow moving rivers, estuaries, bays, canals, and in the coastal waterways of Central and South America.
They eat all kinds of aquatic vegetation, especially sea grass, consuming large quantities each day which helps keep waterways free and flowing.
Manatee mothers are very affectionate with their calves and will spend hours playing with them. Females give their calves rides on their back. Pregnancies last 13 months, and baby manatees weigh 35 to 70 pounds (16 to 32 kg) and measure from three to four feet (0.9 to 1.2 m) long. Calves nurse for up to two years, and it takes five to nine years before a manatee becomes fully mature.
Manatees are harmless animals whose only defence is to flee when in danger. They are considered the most peaceful animals on earth, because of their calm demeanours. Scientists who have studied these gentle giants report that manatees never displays any signs of anger or aggression, except during mating when males are in competition for females. Manatees surface every few minutes to breathe, even while asleep.
Because manatees move very slowly and sleep near the surface, they are often caught in the propellers of boats, sustaining fatal injuries. The high death rate of manatees due to boats, hypothermia and red tide poisonings outnumbers the birth rate, which has led this docile animal to become one of the most endangered aquatic species, although recovery programs are currently in place.
Manatee Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US