FLORIDA MANATEE } Trichechus manatus latirostrus
FAMILY: Trichechidae

DESCRIPTION: The Florida manatee is a massive gray marine mammal with pronounced front flippers and a broad, paddle-shaped tail. Individuals average 10 feet in length and 1,000 pounds in weight but can be as long as 15 feet and weigh more than 3,000 pounds. Thick layers of blubber under their wrinkly skin are used for insulation and to increase buoyancy. Manatees will occasionally sport algae growths as they are slow moving enough to allow the plants to take hold.
HABITAT: Found in both salt and freshwater, manatees typically congregate in coastal waters or shallow streams and estuaries with warm temperatures and plentiful vegetation.

RANGE: The Florida manatee is found in coastal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean and Florida's shallow rivers, estuaries and the Everglades.

MIGRATION: Manatees migrate in summer, as warmer water temperatures allow for expanded travel. They have been reported as far north as New York City and as far west as Louisiana, although sightings in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are more common.

BREEDING: Females average one calf every two to five years and usually begin breeding successfully between the ages of seven and nine. Gestation lasts from 12 to 14 months, and the mother and calf will remain together for up to two years. Manatees will breed year round whenever conditions are favorable.

LIFE CYCLE: Manatees may live to be 60 years or older.

FEEDING: Manatees graze on sea grass and other vegetation. They need to eat between 20 to 66 pounds of grasses and plant leaves daily.

THREATS: Florida manatees are threatened by watercraft collisions, habitat loss due to development and pollution, and entanglement in fishing gear. Climate change also poses a serious threat in the form of irregular temperatures, resulting in either lethal cold snaps or unusually warm surface-water temperatures leading to more severe and frequent hurricanes and deadly red-tide algae blooms.

POPULATION TREND: The Florida manatee's population is estimated to be approximately 3,800 individuals. Reports show that an unsustainable number of manatees are lost each year to boat collisions alone.

Florida manatee photo courtesy USFWS/S. Whitcraft