2018 has been a very interesting year so far. Snow has fallen in the Northwest region and most of the state has been under Freeze Warnings for several nights. Besides the bitter cold temperatures making headline news, Florida Manatees have been in the spotlight as they congregate in large herds to stay warm during these bitter cold snaps.
The manatee, Florida’s gentle giant (aka, the “sea cow”), may be spotted in the largest numbers during the winter and early spring months. When water temperatures dip below 68 degrees, manatees gravitate towards warmer waters making Florida’s 72-degree freshwater springs an ideal respite for the warm-blooded mammals. The added benefit for us is that we can observe them in the clear water.
Manatees are often found congregating around bubbly springs, within state and marine water parks, or near power plants where the outflow of warm water keeps their body temperatures constant. Right now is an ideal time to look for these true Florida natives, because as summer approaches, these endearing creatures will scatter.
Manatees are related to the elephant, with grayish thick, leathery wrinkled skin. Propelled by huge powerful tails, manatees are actual slow swimmers. They lumber along quietly through Florida’s waterways. If you look, you can find them year-round in Florida, but it is much easier in cooler months when large numbers cluster near the temperate water.
As herbivores, manatees usually dine on marine and freshwater plants, grazing along grass flats and aquatic meadows, surfacing for air while breathing through their whiskered nostrils. These gentle creatures are definitely heavyweights, tipping the scales anywhere between 1,000-3,500 pounds and consuming up to ten percent of their body weight in marine vegetation each day. The females give birth to calves typically weighing more than 60 pounds as they nurse under water.