Manatees move slowly through the water. Schools of fish sometimes take shelter around and underneath a manatee. Courtesy of the NCTC Image Library
Manatees are large mammals that live in the oceans. An adult manatee is around 10 feet long and weighs around 1,000 pounds. Manatees breathe air, but they spend most of their time underwater. A manatee can hold its breath for 15 to 20 minutes at a time while swimming underwater.
Manatees are herbivores, which means that they only eat plants. An adult manatee may spend up to eight hours of every day grazing on underwater grasses. One manatee can eat as much as 100 pounds of plants in a day!
Manatees do not have home areas or territories. Instead, a manatee spends most of the year traveling through the ocean alone. It wanders around looking for food. In the winter, manatees migrate, or travel, to areas where there is plenty of warm water for them to live in. In North America, most manatees spend the winter in the ocean near Florida.
During the winter, manatees often spend time living together in groups. People in Florida have observed groups of manatees playing together by doing underwater somersaults, standing on their heads, and holding on to one another’s flippers while they swim.
Because manatees spend most of their time moving slowly through the water, and because they are not afraid of humans and boats, manatees can be badly hurt by boat engine propellers that rotate at high speeds through the water. In Florida, people have taken some of the areas where manatees live in the winter and turned them into specially protected “manatee-friendly” areas. In these areas, boats must travel at slow speeds so that they are less likely to hurt a manatee.
Manatees do not have very good eyesight, so they cannot see plants up close. Instead, they have sensitive whiskers on the ends of their noses that help them find plants by feel. By Fritz Geller-Grimm
This map shows areas in the world where manatees live. The range of the North American manatee is marked in green. By Fabio B
References include the above links and the following books:
Feeney, Kathy. Our Wild World Series: Manatees. Minnetonka, MN: NorthWord Press, 2001.