Manatees in Crystal River, Florida: Endangered Species Also Known as Sea Cows
Photo of Manatees
When visiting a friend who lived in Crystal River, Florida many years ago my mother, niece and I saw a manatee also called a sea cow for the first time in person. These large lumbering, curious, intelligent and friendly creatures are also an endangered species.
According to a Wikipedia link, "Fossil remains of Florida manatee ancestors date back about 45 million years."
It seems that it takes a while for we humans to understand that all of the creatures upon this earth are interrelated in some way and that death of any one species is not only sad but will impact us in ways that may take a while to be determined.
Rarely is it good news.
Apparently over a course of 60 million years or so scientists believe that manatees evolved from four legged mammals who used to roam certain areas of earth on land.
They are of a similar species to the elephant.
Over time and after spending more of their time in water evolution changed their bodies. They no longer have weight bearing legs to support them on land. Instead they have paddle-like flippers which serve them better in aquatic environments.
Unlike fish with gills, manatees still need air in which to breathe. About the longest time that they can stay under water without resurfacing for a breath of air is 20 minutes.
This resurfacing for air is necessary even while they are asleep as one of the videos nicely portrays and they spend about half of their time asleep in the water.
Manatees are commonly of three types.
- There is the Amazonian manatee
- the West Indian manatee
- and the West African manatee.
The average weight of manatees ranges from almost 900 pounds to 1200 pounds (400 - 550 kilograms).
Measuring manatees from head to tail the averages are from a little over 9 to almost 10 feet (2.8 to 3 metres) with some larger ones getting up to 12 feet (3.6 metres).
If one sees a manatee in the water, they can hardly go unnoticed!
Attenborough: Bad Breath from the Gentle Sea Cow - Life of Mammals - BBC
Crystal River Manatees
It is the West Indian manatee whose habitat is normally the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.
Not surprisingly the Amazonian manatee frequents the Amazon Basin and the West African manatee's habitat is that of West Africa.
The manatees who come to Crystal River and the Homosassa River in Florida (both places that we got to see while visiting my friend) can live to be 60 years old.
All manatees no matter where they typically congregate cannot live in water temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).
In the spring fed waters of Crystal River, year round temperatures are around 72 degrees.
Naturally the springs that feed into these waters are colder and when swimming in these crystal clear waters there is little doubt when one passes over one of those springs emanating from the base of the river. Brrr! They are much colder!
But the warmth of the air and land keeps the waters nice and warm for the manatees that like to call these rivers home for much of the year.
Another Florida River in which manatees like to gather is the Chassahowitzka.
The manatees are also known as a sea cow, I suppose because of their size?
These curious and intelligent mammals are similar to dolphins in that they seem to like humans. For that reason some people like to swim with manatees. There are Crystal River manatee tours that can be arranged.
My mother, niece and I saw the most manatees in Homosassa Springs where a bunch of them were sequestered in a sheltered area where they could heal from their injuries by careless boat operators.
This is a prime problem with regard to manatee habitat and human interaction.
Manatees are herbivores and graze in shallow waters that are anywhere from 3 to a little over 6 feet (1 to 2 meters) in depth. But this creates a problem co-existing with humans who like boating.
Even though the waters where manatees generally are to be found are clearly marked, often boaters ignore the slow speeds posted and numerous manatees are struck by propeller blades and are injured.
Some manatees have multiple dozens of scars (50...60!) and obviously due to infections or worse, some do not survive. Just imagine the pain that they must endure!
Apparently manatees hear higher frequencies than the typical boat motors emit so cannot protect themselves from injury. It is up to us humans to watch out for them instead!
The boat operator that took us on a tour of the Homosassa River was very careful to monitor his speed in the areas where the manatees congregated and ratcheted up his speed once we were in waters where the manatees were no longer prevalent.
It is a simple enough thing to do to care for our fellow earth creatures and in particular, ones that are already endangered!
Save the Manatee
Fellow HubPage writer Tony who hails from South Africa inserted a quote into one of his recent posts that was worded so beautifully and he gave me permission to use it in this one. The following comes from Tony's article titled Birthday and Christmas reflections 2010.
As Jan Christian Smuts in his interesting book Holism and Evolution (first edition 1924; now published by N & S Press, 1987) wrote this fascinating passage (p 336):
"For we are indeed one with Nature; her genetic fibres run through all our being; our physical organs connect us with millions of years of her history; our minds are full of immemorial paths of pre-human experience. Our ear for music, our eye for art carry us back to the early beginnings of animal life on this globe."
I thought that this so beautifully explained why we should care about whether the manatees survive to swim the warm waters of this earth another 60 million years or so into the future.
In addition to careless boat owners there are other things that threaten the manatees.
- Manatees only breed every two years with gestation lasting a full year. The weaning of a manatee calf takes from one to one and a half years. Thus these large aquatic mammals are not exactly reproducing like rabbits!
- Habitat destruction always takes a toll.
- Sometimes human objects like fishing lines or other ingested objects get stuck in their intestines causing their slow demise.
- Most often predators are not a problem but occasionally a very hungry alligator, crocodile or shark may kill one for food.
- When the proliferation of certain types of algae take place (commonly called a red tide) the needed oxygen is depleted from the water causing the deaths of manatees.
- The Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster in the year 2010 and its effect on the manatee population is probably too soon to be calculated.
While we cannot control contributing factors like temperatures and diseases that might impact the manatees, it is within our power to make sure that our oceans and rivers are kept pollution and trash free.
Certainly boaters can slow down so that the vast amount of manatee injuries and deaths in Florida no longer occur!
At the present rate of the reproductions and deaths of these magnificent creatures, this endangered species of manatee does not have a rosy outlook.
The Crystal River manatee also called a sea cow needs to be protected in Florida and elsewhere around the globe where the manatees congregate so that future generations will be able to see them and all of us can live in earthly harmony.
When one species of plant or animal ceases to exist it impacts us all in ways little and great.
From fellow HubPage writer Bill DeGiulio...
- Kayacking the Weeki Wachee River
Also includes wonderful photos of the manatees seen in these crystal clear waters.
Locations of Crystal River and Homosassa Springs in Florida
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Peggy Woods