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An Overview on Manatees Species

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The Cows of the Sea

The Manatee is in the family Trichechidae and the genus Trichechus. There are three types of Manatees: the Amazonian Manatee, the West Indian Manatee, and the West African Manatee. It is known as the “sea cow” because of its resemblance to the land animal the cow. Manatees can be up to thirteen feet long and weigh as much as 1300 pounds (Nat. Geo.). They are large and grey with wide, short, human-like flippers in the front of their body. Since the Manatee is an herbivore they have an upper lip designed to not only to help them eat and gather food, but use it socially and for communicative purposes. Its main diet consists of different sea grasses and algae. However, the manatee does sometimes eat small fish or invertebrates. To help it eat, the manatee has only up to six (Best, Robin) back teeth, which are replaced by new teeth every so often. On a day-to-day basis the manatee swims on average two miles per hour, but when it feels endangered, it can swim in bursts of twenty miles per hour.

The Manatee lives in different parts of the world. The West Indian manatee lives in the Florida waters during the winter, but can be seen in even Alabama, or Virginia during the summer. The Antillean manatees can be found around Brazil, and the islands of Cuba. The Amazonian Manatees are respectively found in the Amazon. A manatee can go from one extreme to the next when it comes to salinity. However a study suggests that

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Florida Manatees must have access to fresh water. They can easily be in salt water and then fresh water. They prefer shallow warm coastal waters. Since they are mammals, manatees can’t swim for too long without air. When they are moving faster than they normally do, they could need air up to every thirty seconds.

Related ancestors of the Manatee are the arctic sea cow, which are now extinct, and the Dugongs. Manatees are believed to have evolved from four legged land animals over 60 million years ago. Today, the closest ancestor would surprisingly be the elephant, over the whale.

Manatees are rather intelligent, they have an understanding of discrimination tasks, and seem to have an advanced long term memory. When it comes to breeding, manatees will give birth once every two years. A manatee’s gestation period is around twelve months and they can give birth up to a sixty-pound baby manatee also known as a calf. After the calf is born, they are dependant of their mother for up to twenty four months. To breathe, the mother manatee takes the baby on her back and brings it up to surface. Shortly after birth, just around two or three weeks the baby calf can start to eat plants, as it was already born with molar like teeth. Copulation, does happen in the water. Males compete with each other to try and win the female manatee’s choice.

Manatees communicate much like dolphins, although they do not have the same radar technology. Through high-pitched chirping, squeaks, and what sound like whistling noises, manatees can communicate to their young, or other manatees around them. Manatees make a lot of noises when, talking to their calves, when they are scared, angry, in pain, or sexually aroused. The manatee’s communication range is between 3-5 Kilohertz. However they have the ability to hear below 20 hertz.

Unfortunately, Manatees have become almost extinct. This has nothing to do with them, but us. Human interference has caused the population to decrease to just about

2500 manatees today. They often are run over by boats, causing disfigurement, scars, or even death. Boats give off a very low frequency and since the manatee hears higher ones they get confused and do not swim away. The problem has gotten so bad a marine mammal veterinarian has said:

“”The severity of mutilations for some of these individuals can be astounding – including long term survivors with completely severed tails, major tail mutilations, and multiple disfiguring dorsal lacerations. These injuries not only cause gruesome wounds, but may also impact population processes by reducing calf production (and survival) in wounded females – observations also speak to the likely pain and suffering endured”(Mar. Mam. Med.).

Another problem arises for the manatee when there are “Red Tides”. “Red Tide, a term used for the proliferation, or ‘blooms’, of the microscopic marine algae of the species Karenia brevis.”(Red Tides). When there is too much of this algae it becomes a toxic environment for the manatee. It has a rather quick effect on the mammals central nervous system.

Manatees have always captivated people around the world. Since the manatee has the shape it does sailors used to mistake it for a mermaid. Native Americans saw this marine animal as very sacred and killing it was taboo and required penance (Cooper JC).

They did however use manatee skin to create armor and shields. At one point the Native Americans believed that when you turn manatees bones into powder you have created a cure for asthma.

The manatee is a beautiful creature that is getting terribly slaughtered. With its smooth grey body, it glides itself throughout the water giving a show for everyone to see. This marine mammal, is mostly an herbivore but can eat small fish. Dependant on which of the three types a manatee is, it can live all over the world. The salinity is never a factor, but the temperature of the water sure is. They have babies known as calves and are fully responsible for them for up to two years. Many things can harm the manatee. Fishing hooks, boats even an algae that is normally found in the water can be potentially fatal for the beloved manatee. Although with a name like the sea cow doesn’t sounds like it would be beautiful, it truly is a beautiful mammal.

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