Quietly, but swiftly, the plump, dark animal glided across the water
while making sounds comparable to that of the squeaks and squeals of a whale
("Florida Manatee" 1). Some would say these aquatic mammals are the ugliest
thing below the surface, others would say that these animals are beautiful and
resemble portly mermaids, but no matter what anybody says about the manatees,
they are unique creatures (Ray and Ciampi 315). They are mammals that are
completely harmless, they feed mostly on sea grass and sometimes small
underwater creatures like shrimp (Berrill 212). It is a shame for these
creatures to be on the endangered species list.
Looking at the physical aspect, these animals are incredibly uncommon,
and like no other creature on earth. These majestic beasts can float across the
water amazingly fast for its size ("Florida Manatee" 1). They can weigh up to a
ton, and get as long as fifteen feet. They are almost devoid of hair, except for
some whiskers on their face, and they have internal ears on the sides of their
head. Their nostrils are closed by valves, so they can accomplish such feats as
flips and quick turns without losing any air. Manatees have no hind legs, but
instead one big, flat, spatula-like tail (Sentman 327). This feature made people
confuse manatees with mermaids for nearly four centuries (O'Shea 66).
Many biologists say that manatees possibly originated or evolved from
ungulates such as elephants and cows because of the way that they are built, and
certain features that they have in common. Like elephants, manatees have the
peculiar half-moon shaped fingernails, and thick, wrinkled skin. Manatees also
shares some traits with cows. The way the manatees spend all day lazily grazing
on the ocean floor is incredibly similar to the behavior of cows at a pasture
(Breeden 58).
Manatees eat an outrageous amount of food, they consume approximately
ten percent of their body weight daily. The large quantities that the manatees
eat is another one of its unique qualities ("Florida Manatee" 1). People use the
manatees as natural "underwater lawn mowers", setting them free in lakes that
have too much sea grass or plants. The manatees consequently eat up the
vegetation, which frees up space to allow other wildlife to inhabit the lake.
Manatees are also used to clear up canals and irrigation rivers that are clogged
with an extreme amount of aquatic plants ("Manatee Facts" 1). The large diet can
also be a disadvantage. With the amount of vegetation in manatee habitats
decreasing tremendously, the manatees are in danger of starving to extinction.
The underwater plants do not survive because of man's harmful deeds such as
pollution, erosion caused by deforestation, and draining wetlands for the
building of coastal homes. Since the 1970's, in Tampa Bay alone, eighty percent
of sea-grass beds have vanished due to these causes (O'Shea 68).
Manatees can also be silly and clumsy at times, they have very bad
eyesight and do not have the attribute of sonar or echo location that some
underwater mammals have. This causes them to occasionally bump into large
underwater rocks and other submerged objects. The poor navigational abilities of
the manatee is an obvious disadvantage. A fast oncoming boat may not be seen by
a manatee until it is too late ("Manatee Facts" 1).
Manatees are mainly solitary animals, they graze alone and do not travel
in groups. Although sometimes, manatees may be seen in temporary groups in which
they will socialize, and leave at anytime. They communicate mostly using faint
whistles and squeaks, but some biologists speculate that they use scent marks to
mark their location like some land mammals. Newborn manatees will also stay with
their mother for at least a year, and will recognize her for the rest of its
life. If needed, nursing females will adopt a manatee calf that is not its own
(O'Shea 70). This type of social behavior shows that manatees are extremely
peaceful, and very friendly.
They are also very agile animals, moving at the normal pace of five
miles per hour. When provoked, they can burst to speeds exceeding fifteen miles
per hour. They also can perform various feats such as barrel rolls, somersaults,
head stands, and gliding upside-down ("Florida Manatee" 1). On the most part,
manatees can be found pasturing on the bottom of the ocean. They drift around
very slowly when doing this activity, and are usually unknowing of anything else
taking place around them. This can leave them greatly vulnerable to poachers,
and irresponsible boatmen (Berrill 212).
There are three different types of manatees, the West African, Amazonean,
and the Caribbean. The differences between the three are slight physical changes,
and habitat. The larger, and more recognized of the three is the Caribbean or
West Indian manatee,