I've lived in Citrus County my whole life. It is a great place to live and there are many fun things to do. One reason some people visit Citrus County is to see manatees. Since my family decided to open a paddle board business with tours on the Crystal River to see manatees, I thought it would be beneficial to learn more about them. I wanted to share what I have learned with you.
Manatees belong to family Trichechidae which also includes dugongs and sirenians. They are mammals and are also known as sea cows. Manatees were first spotted by Spanish explorers who thought that they were man-fish creatures. Many people believe this to be the source of the mermaid myths. Manatees are very intelligent and have problem solving skills equal to dolphins. Due to their slow metabolism manatees cannot live in cold water, due to risk of cold stress syndrome which can lead to death. So, they live in warm, tropical waters.
Manatees are herbivores (plant eaters) and eat 10% of their bodyweight every day. Because they eat plants, they must eat in shallow water so they can reach their food. Manatees drink fresh water, so they normally live in or near a source of fresh water. Some people even leave their water hoses dripping into the water for the manatees to drink. This is not good for them as they can become dependent on that source of water. Therefore people are discouraged from giving food or water to manatees.
Full grown manatees can weigh in at 1,000 pounds and can grow to 9 ft. long. Some manatees have been known to live as long as 60 years. They are constantly growing new teeth their mouth to replace the teeth which fall out. Manatees usually have only six teeth at a time. Since they eat plants, their teeth are large and flat like those of horses and cows. Manatees are solitary unless mating or migrating, or when it is a mother and her calf. They are friendly with each other and when two manatees meet they will ''kiss'' by pulling the other manatee's head to theirs with their fins and shaking their heads.
Manatees usually swim very slowly, but they can move quickly if they are motivated to. They sleep close to the surface so that while sleeping they can subconsciously lift their snouts to the surface to take breaths. Manatees have only one calf every two years. The calves will nurse for 12 to 18 months, and stay with their mother for their first two years
One of the biggest dangers to manatees is from motorboats. This is partly due to their curious natures and because they have to eat in shallow water. Many manatees have been injured and disfigured by propellors. Manatees can be killed by red tide (a breakout of microscopic algae). In 1996, 15% of Florida's manatee population was killed by a red tide outbreak. Hurricanes and some types of fishing gear are also dangerous to manatees. Because of these the dangers, manatees are still protected by speed, swimming, and interaction laws.
There was a time when manatees were endangered in Florida, but their population has rebounded from less than 2,000 to more than 5,000. Thankfully manatees are doing fairly well right now and tourism is thriving because of them. My family looks forward to introducing others to these gentle and lovable creatures, and we think paddle boarding is a great way to do that!
- Seth Corcoran