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A full grown west indian manatee is 8-11 feet long and can weigh 400-1300 lbs. They are gentle, slow moving and curious mammals that will sometimes approach me while I'm kayaking. Manatees have a large snout covered with whiskers that they use to grab food and pull it in towards the mouth. Their closest relative in the elephant. Manatee are mammals that must surface to breath. In a resting state, manatees can stay submerged for up to 20 minutes. While swimming, they may need to breath every 30 seconds. They usually swim about 3-5 miles per hour but are capable of short burst of speed up to 20 mph. Their large bodies and slow speed put them at great risk to injury from the propellers of boats. Most manatee bare scars from multiple collision with boat propellers. West indian manatee have no natural predators and can live for 60 years or more. The biggest threats to manatee are injuries caused by people, cold weather and loss of habitat. Their reproduction rate is very low. They begin to reproduce when they are about 5 years old. Females bear 1 calf about every 2-5 years. The gestation period is about 1 year and they will nurse their calf for 1-2 years.
Brevard county Florida has an impressive population of these endangered manatee in our estuaries, creeks, canals and inlets. They prefer fresh or brackish shallow water where there are seagrass beds for food.
West Indian manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978. It is illegal to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal. While many of us have good intentions, these laws also make it illegal to feed, offer fresh water or pursue these gentle creatures. Manatees are curious and somewhat affectionate. Some of them enjoy contact with people and having their chins or bellies rubbed. But these kind of interactions as well as offering food or fresh water can cause manatee to stay near humans and not undergo their normal migrations to warmer waters in the winter. They can die from cold stress and pneumonia.