5 Things You Might Not Have Known About Manatees

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Native to the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, Florida manatees are slow, gentle and somewhat clumsy giants of the marine ecosystem. They spend most of the summer months in the Mexican Gulf and may take their vacation as far north as the waters of Cape Cod, but they make their way into the warmer waters of Florida every November to escape the cold of winter. Manatees can swim in short bursts at 20 miles per hour, but are typically slower at 3-5 miles per hour — swimming like dolphins in slow motion.

Here are 5 things you might have not known about manatees.

1. They rely on power plant outflows to keep themselves warm

Despite their large body size and weight of at least 1,000 pounds, manatees lack a continuous layer of fat like whales to keep them warm during winter. So when marine temperatures fall below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, they have to move to areas of higher temperatures to survive. Previously manatees fled to warm water springs for survival in winter, but nowadays many of them rely on the heated water pumped into the ponds or canals around private and municipal power plants. They often cluster around these power plant outflows throughout winter. While the power plants have increased the wintering spots for manatees farther north, the fact that the animals tend to return to the same spots every winter means they could return to inactive power plants and die of cold in the unheated waters.

2. Manatees grow new teeth throughout their life

Manatees spend 6-8 hours every day eating sea grass and other marine vegetation. Since the food contains tiny sand granules that wear their teeth down gradually, the sea cows eventually lose their teeth and have to grow new ones. Manatees constantly grow molars at the back corners of their mouth so that once the front teeth wear down and ultimately fall out, the molars emerge fully and push forward new teeth. Another interesting fact is that manatees are anatomically incapable of attacking anyone or anything with their teeth due to the location and orientation of the teeth. You have to insert your whole hand into a manatee’s mouth before you can reach their teeth, which means it’s virtually impossible for them to bite or attack with their teeth.

3. Manatees use their lungs to regulate their buoyancy

The lungs of manatees run along their spines to the top of the body — more or less like a flotation tank that runs along the animal’s backside. The sea giants use their rib cage muscles to compress the lung volume and increase the density of their bodies to sink and then relax the muscles to allow them to come to the water surface to breathe. Even when asleep, their rib cage muscles relax and expand their lung volume, carrying them gently to the water surface. After breathing, the muscles contract to enable the animals to sink effortlessly back under water.

4. Relatives to the now-extinct Steller’s sea cow

Discovered in 1741 in the Commander Islands, Bering Sea, the Steller’s sea cows were animals of the size of a small whale. After their discovery they were hunted to extinction by the year 1786 — killed in large numbers and wiped out by the fur hunters who lived in the frozen north Pacific. As part of the dugong family, the Steller’s sea cow grew to 30 feet long, feasted on kelp, had no teeth and could survive in cold environments, which are deadly to modern manatees. Apart from their close link with the Steller’s sea cow, manatees also have enough exclusive evolutionary adaptations to enable classification in their own order, Sirenia. The order Sirenia includes the three manatee species (African, Amazonian and West Indian) and the dugong. On land, the closest relative of the manatee is the elephant, a fact exemplified by the 3-4 tiny nails on the end of every flipper of a manatee, which is quite similar to the elephant’s toenails. Likewise, the prehensile upper lips of manatees are similar to a shrunken version of the elephant’s trunk.

5. The biggest threats to their survival come from human activities

Manatees have no natural predators and due to their size even big 12-foot alligators give way for them to pass. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work with humans who tend not to give way to these docile and defenseless creatures. Humans can kill or injure manatees with their watercraft and often degrade the animals’ habitat by building up the coastline and blocking natural springs. Human activities also have accelerated the loss of seagrass, leading to both manatees and their environment beings classified as endangered. And even with up to 18 Florida counties having manatee protection zones that prohibit boat access or require boaters to slow down, collisions with watercraft is still a leading threat to manatee survival.

Are you interested in kayaking and swimming with manatees? Or would you like a thrilling, exciting and memorable manatee tour? At Captain Mike’s that’s what we’ve been helping thousands of adventurers, outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers to achieve every year. We have some of the most stable, comfortable and safest boats, skilled, knowledgeable and experienced captains and boat crew, and the most reliable equipment and gear to make every manatee tour fun and delightful. And if you want to rent a boat, we have a huge assortment of kayaks to choose from. So just contact us as soon as you begin planning your manatee tour and we’ll help you achieve your dream outing with these lovely marine giants. For more information on manatees, manatee tours and outdoor activities around Crystal River, visit the “Captain Mike’s Swimming With The Manatees” site.


Swimming with the Manatees boasts the best water adventure in Crystal River, Florida with lots of things to do for you and your family. For more information, contact us online, or call us at (352) 571-1888.

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