The Florida manatee, or sea cow, scientifically known as Trichechus manatus latirostris, is a large, herbivorous, aquatic mammal that can be found in the shallow coastal waters, rivers, and springs of Florida and adjoining states. It is a subspecies of the West Indian manatee and is the largest of all living sirenians. Scientists have found them to live in fresh water, saline water, and even brackish water. The area is limited to the tropics and subtropics, because they have an extremely low metabolic rate. In the winter, West Indian Manatees can be found in Florida; and during summer, these large mammals have even been found as far north as New York City and as far west as Texas.
Manatees are large, somewhat seal-shaped mammals with flat, rounded tails. They are a large aquatic relative of the elephants. Adults range in color from gray to brown. Calves are darker at birth and change to a grayish color in about one month. Adults are typically about 9 to 10 feet long and weigh around 1,000 pounds. They can, however, grow as large as 13 feet, weighing more than 3,000 pounds. Female manatees tend to reach greater lengths and weights than males.
These gentle creatures are endangered throughout their range. High annual mortality, primarily associated with human activity, as well as a low reproductive rate and loss of habitat continue to keep the number of manatees low and threaten the species’ future. In response to an increased awareness of the plight of the manatee, governmental agencies, universities, private conservation groups, and concerned corporations have joined together to promote research and identify the actions needed to encourage the recovery of manatee populations. This work has increased our knowledge of this species as well as raised many questions that remain unanswered. The combined efforts have been so effective that the Florida manatee is one of the best known marine mammals in the world.